For many people, deciding between competing products in any field can be difficult, thanks to the sheer volume of choice and the influence of marketing budgets.
That’s why many of us will try to evaluate antivirus programs in a generic way, based upon how we evaluate other, non-technical items.
That method tends to lend itself to one main question which pops up early in proceedings – the decision of whether to go with a free program or a premium antivirus solution.
As to which is the correct answer, much depends on who is asking the question.
Should you choose a free antivirus program or one you have to pay for?
A few years back I would have said this question was moot: you get what you pay for and free antivirus programs were not worthy of much consideration.
Sure, some were ok, but those that were tended to package in annoying toolbars, employ confusing interfaces or try to upsell at every opportunity.
Now, things are somewhat different.
Both free and paid for antivirus programs have moved with the times, the former sometimes offering a better user experience, the latter adding in ever more features. S
o, which to go for?
I think the first thing to consider with the free variants of antivirus programs is who is supplying them.
Some zero-cost solutions come from big names and offer competitive results, sometimes on a par with their higher cost brethren.
They may well represent exceptional value to you and should not be dismissed, especially by anyone who is short on funds or not running a mission-critical machine.
There are some considerations when choosing to go down that road though, chief of which is how the supplier is making their money.
Let’s face it, no business is a charity so if you’re not paying for a product, chances are you are the product, either in terms of being a target for up-selling, or through the value of the personal information you hand over to the company.
There’s also the possibility of course that not paying leaves the company unable to provide the same level of support that a funded software supplier can offer.
That’s definitely something to think about, especially if you are not overly technical in nature. T
hen there are questions around the nature of the software itself – some is open source which can, but doesn’t have to be, free.
Such software is great in some ways as it allows any interested party to view the code, suggest changes or even change the code for their own installation.
Tricky for the typical home user, but compelling for some.
Which brings us to the last point: ease of use.
While it is certainly true that the majority of free programs have upped the game in terms of their interfaces recently, some can still be confusing for non-technical users to get their heads around, or configure in the way they would like.
Given that the use of security software should be a seamless experience – it’s more user-friendly, not to mention secure – that may be an issue for some.
So what benefits can you get by paying for antivirus protection?
I’d say the key benefit you receive in return for handing over your hard earned cash is accountability.
If you are paying a company to supply your security software you have an expectation and a right to assume that they will look after you, help you with any installation issues and be available to offer advice should you ever need it.
Ideally, you would want this support to be easily obtained at virtually any time of the day and, preferably, free.
Such service is typically hard to find when using free software.
You should also expect far more features that you would get in a free program – i.e. the ability to scan incoming and outgoing emails, a firewall, anti-spyware, etc.
The companies that provide paid-for antivirus programs are aware of the competition they face from free alternatives and continue to add features to maintain their competitive edge.
On the other hand, the free programs do not have the funding to be able to add additional features.
Additionally, they are often used simply as a gateway to their developer’s own paid-for programs anyway.