Antivirus programs – Which one should I use? I get this question all the time – really, just about every day. So, as a computer guy, you might imagine that I see a lot of different antivirus programs, and you’d be right. There are dozens in common usage, and more that most folks have never heard of.
It’s also true that *I* like or dislike any particular program for different reasons than the average user likes or dislikes it. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, and I certainly have mine. That doesn’t mean yours is wrong, but it is probably different, and likely just as valid. Am I starting to sound like a politician yet?
For the average user, I would imagine that the main goal of any antivirus program they use would be to “keep out all the viruses”. Simply put, keep the bad guys out of the machine.
Herein lies the problem. There is no one program that stops all viruses. There never was, there isn’t now, and there never will be. That’s just a fact of life. Some programs are better than others, but however it is that you measure that, if you look again next month, WHICH programs are better will likely be a different group.
This is because the whole concept is such a moving target. There are [a LOT of] new viruses every day. All of the antivirus companies spend enormous amounts of money and effort to identify these new viruses and modify their programs to stop them. Here is a timeline of sorts:
- The bad guys make a new virus and release it onto the world
- Some time passes, and the antivirus company finds this new virus
- The antivirus company figures out how to prevent or identify and delete the new virus
- The antivirus company tests their changes internally
- The antivirus company does a limited rollout of the changes to test them externally
- Assuming no problems the antivirus company releases their changes to all of their customers
- Over some period of time, all of the end users using that antivirus program get the update and are protected from the virus released in step 1
The devil is in the details, though – as with most things. In reality, we aren’t talking about one new virus at a time. There can be hundreds of newly discovered viruses every day. Step 2 above can take hours, days or weeks. During that time, if you are unlucky enough to run into the new virus, you can get infected even if your antivirus program is running correctly and up to date. Don’t forget YOUR protection doesn’t come until step 7.
More details: occasionally, something goes wrong and one of the updates released by an antivirus company doesn’t work right. This can result in problems for the end user until such time as the antivirus company discovers its mistake, fixes the problem and releases the fix. Sometimes, the problems are severe. One such case last year actually broke the internet connection on the end users computers, so that every user of that antivirus software that loaded the bad update could no longer browse the internet. AND because of this, couldn’t get the fix the antivirus company programmed. That was a disaster.
Let’s talk a little bit about why *I* like or dislike any particular antivirus product. The most important factor is that the product has to be generally regarded in my industry as “good.” This usually means that it has a history of good results from the various places that test these things. Also, it has a good reputation amongst the tech community.
A VERY close second factor for me is how good of a “citizen” that program is when living on your computer. Does it get along well with most other programs? Does it have an easy-to-understand user interface? Does it demand a lot of the user’s attention, or does it do its job more quietly, in the background? Does it place a high load on system resources – i.e. How much does it slow down the computer using it? How often does it load updates, and how long does that process take? These questions can only be answered by using and working with the product on one of your own machines. I do some testing, of course, and I work with a lot of different programs on my customer’s computers. I also use my relationship with other computer folks in my industry to gain this knowledge for a wide variety of products.
In order for me to feel comfortable recommending it, an antivirus program must do all of these things well. Let’s say I found a very good antivirus program, but for whatever reason, it placed a very high load on the host system. Sure, it may protect you from viruses, but if it slows your computer down by 50%, you are not going to be happy with the results.
As you can imagine, this landscape is constantly changing. The products on my list are different today then 2 years ago, and will undoubtedly be different 2 years from now than they are today. Things change all the time.
Lastly, let’s look at the free programs. If you can get good protection for free, why would you ever pay? The first point here is to realize that no company can survive by making and distributing only a free program. It takes money (sales) to pay for developers, testing equipment, office buildings, all the stuff you need to be a company. Most all free programs have a paid counterpart, that usually has more features or automation. The only reason most free programs exist at all is to sell the paid version of that program. If you use and like a free program, then it is reasonable to assume that you will “convert” at some point to using the paid version of that program. If no one converted, there would be no revenue and that company would cease to exist. I have tried many of the free products, and while some of them provide adequate protection, most of those have a reason that I don’t particularly like them. Updates too slow, too aggressive with advertisements, constant re-registering, too hard on system resources — any of these things can put a product on my ‘not recommended’ list.
The end result of this is that companies that produce the free programs monitor this conversion rate closely. If enough people are not converting, then they get more aggressive at their efforts to convince people to convert. The most popular ploy is to automatically install a “trial” of the paid version during one of the frequent updates. This temporarily converts your program to the paid version so that you can see all of the benefits you are missing by using the free version. Then, after a short while, say 30 days, your free “trial” of the paid product will expire and the program will start warning you about this and state that you have to sign up (= PAY THEM) to continue.
Because the “offer” to convert to a trial version of the paid program is often sneaked into a normal update, most folks miss the chance to say no to this offer and continue with the free version. The more aggressive the companies get at their conversion efforts, the more sneaky they become at installing the “trial.”
It’s hard for me to get upset about their aggressive tactics here. I get it that a certain percentage of the free users have to convert for them to make enough money to continue. As a small business myself, it would hypocritical of me to recommend that anyone use free products forever. If you are using a free antivirus and like its protection, then by all means I think you should upgrade to the paid version. Reward that company for their efforts in producing a good product. Karma will thank you and you will be a contributing member of this tech society we all live in.
Ok, Ok – that’s all well and good, but which antivirus program should I use?
There is one product I use myself and recommend above all others, for a reason that I haven’t discussed yet. This is our own “managed” antivirus product. It is a paid product, but it is cheaper than most all of the alternatives, and comes with the great feature of being “managed.” So what is that? A managed product will report back to someone (in this case, me) about the status of the product. If you use our managed antivirus, then I get what amounts to real-time reporting about whether the product is currently active, if it has successfully loaded the most recent update, and if it has found any infections on your machine.
This allows me to bring my professional knowledge to bear every day for your protection. If the product is not running, then I know about it and will probably call you to see what’s up. If the latest update did not load successfully, I will issue a command that the update try again. If it fails a second time, I know something is wrong and will call you. If it detects an infection, I will see that and also whether or not that infection was successfully quarantined or deleted. If it was NOT, then I can issue a command for that to be done. If that fails, I will call you.
So, the managed portion of the product is like having me there to oversee the operation of your program, and making sure that it works correctly. Also, because I chose carefully, this product is a good citizen on your computer. It does its job quietly without requiring a lot from the users of the computer, it doesn’t place a large load on system resources, and it is generally regarded in the tech community as good protection. Win-Win. As a bonus, it is less expensive than the average Norton or McAfee you might pick up at the store.
If you’d like to know more, or discuss any of the points I have made in this article, give us a call @ (412) 480-9969. That’s why we’re here. We’re happy to help!