No More Free Antivirus?

Category: Anti-Virus

I have noticed an increase in puzzled, indignant emails from readers asking why I say antivirus programs are free when they aren’t. Typically, the writer says he/she downloaded the 'free' program and has been using it happily for anywhere from a month to a year, but suddenly the program says it’s time to 'upgrade' and that’s going to cost money. I’d like to clear the air on what’s happening here...

Which Antivirus Software is Really Free?

Virtually all antivirus software developers offer two or more versions of their wares. The version that I say is “free” is truly free, perpetually – for personal, non-commercial use. If you've run into a situation where you downloaded what you thought was a free antivirus program, and it seems to asking you to pay, read on...

The confusion arises when users make a wrong turn by mistakenly download the “trial” version of an antivirus program. Trial versions, generally, are fully-functional but only for a limited amount of time. You get to try it before you decide whether to buy it or stop using it. But the language and layout of the download pages can be confusing, if you're not paying close attention. Let's look at three of the most popular antivirus freebies:

Truly Free AntiVirus Software

On the AVG download page, the column on the left says "Free Download" and that's the freebie. The column on the right says "Free Trial". If you download that one, you'll most certainly get a nag screen after a period of time asking you to pay for the product. On the Avast download page, there's a similar, but slightly more obtuse situation. There are three columns, all labelled "DOWNLOAD" but only the leftmost button will get you the freebie. Avira gets kudos for making the link to the free download most abundantly clear.

But even if you succeed in getting the truly free version of your chosen anti-virus software, you might hit a bump in the road later on.

Consumer confusion is increased by many software developers who want to eat and pay their employees. When a new updated version of a program becomes available, it is often presented to users along with a sales pitch to "Register", "Renew", "Upgrade" or some similar language that seems to indicate that money must be paid. But somewhere, perhaps down at the bottom of the screen, you will find a button or link to “stick with the free version.”

I recently got a popup from Avast that said something like "Your avast! protection will expire soon - RENEWAL REQUIRED." A careful reading of that screen indicated that I could continue using my free version by registering it, at no charge. But I can see how many are scared into thinking that they must upgrade to the paid version.

For more information on free antivirus software, and other internet security tips, see my article Free AntiVirus Programs.

Offers to “Upgrade to Pro” are scattered all over most free versions of antivirus software on the control panel’s main screen; in the “settings” and “maintenance” areas; and in the “about” and “preferences” areas. Essentially, they are ads in this “ad-free” free software. They’re just not ads for other products.

So always-free antivirus software is still available, and I will not call a program “free” unless it is. But you have to read the developers’ offers mindfully to make sure you get what you want to pay (or not pay) for.

Paid versus Free Versions

My current favorite, Avast Free Antivirus includes basic antivirus, anti-rootkit, and anti-spyware protection. Other versions, which are available on a trial basis, add more and more features such as a firewall, anti-phishing and anti-spam defenses, and a “SafeZone” feature that creates a virtual machine in RAM every time you log in to a bank, e-commerce site, or other site where security of the data stored on your real machine is essential. The virtual machine is “clean” of all personal data, and anything that a Web site might inject into it during a session vanishes along with the virtual machine when the session ends. (See also Why I Switched from AVG to Avast Antivirus.)

Avira Free Antivirus includes everything a typical non-commercial user needs: excellent off-line scanning and removal of infections; real-time protection against drive-by downloads and phishing threats; blocking of attempts to track your Web activity or infect your system with spyware or adware; and a reputation-based rating system that warns you if a Web site you’re about to visit is suspicious.

The paid versions – three “suites” – include the features above and add others that may be of critical use to personal or business users. For instance, the free version of Avira does not scan email for viruses but the suites do. Is that important to you? If you use an email service provider that scans for viruses before delivering mail to you, probably not. If you are running your own mail server with no antivirus, or use a third-party provider who doesn’t scan for viruses, you do need one of the Avira suites.

AVG Antivirus devotes a large part of its Wikipedia entry’s “Products” section to the limitations of the Free edition. The most noteworthy limitations for personal, non-commercial users are: 1) no rootkit protection; 2) infrequent updates; and 3) no phone or email support. (No other vendor offers one-on-one support to free users, either). Also, the Free edition displays a popup ad for upgrades to the “Internet Security” paid versions every day for one month per year. Each year, you have to re-confirm your free registration, at which time you will get a heavy sales pitch to buy an upgrade.

Comparing the features of free vs. paid versions of antivirus software is more confusing than comparing cellular phone service plans. Developers use code words like “SafeZone” without providing ready access to a definition (I had to Google it). But it sure sounds like something you absolutely need. The idea is to offer a free version but give the user the definite impression that he’d be better off paying. If you have a computer that's shared with kids, or
someone who is hell-bent on clicking anything and everything, it's probably a good idea to go with a paid product for the extra protection offered.

Whether you decide to pay or not depends, to a large extent, on whether you have actually experienced a problem that a paid version of the software can prevent. Until then, you don’t know the full pain of the problem and so you don’t feel the need to spend that money. You may also want to thank the developers after using the free product for a while, by purchasing a paid upgrade. I've always done well with the free security tools, but the choice is yours.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "No More Free Antivirus?"

(See all 40 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

21 Jun 2014

It goes without saying but must be said again,

R.T.F.M.—Anonymous, 1979.[*]

Or perhaps updated to,

R.T.F.S.—Son of anonymous, 2014.

Posted by:

21 Jun 2014

Oh Please!!!

I NOW use Emsisoft Anti-Malware as their Program does NOT Snoop on your personal files! has a PDF on which AV companies are rated in terms of how much they protect - - or don't protect - - your privacy . . . a Most Interesting READ for those of us who have a healthy dose of Paranoia!


Posted by:

21 Jun 2014

Mr. Rankin. to prevent further "indignant emails", you forgot the disclaimer at the bottom of your great article that states "The foregoing is subject to change, without notice. YMMV"
I heard that this week may be the 25th anniversary of the web (thank you Al Gore) and I spent the first 20years worrying about AV. I am now to the point that I no longer care and use the placebo AV protection provided by Microsoft Win8 Defender. I have tried them all (including the paid version of now defunct Acronis AV) and find them all to be a large nuisance. I have come to the realization that I am now spending more time "computing" and less time tending to AV baby-sitting chores!

Posted by:

21 Jun 2014

I started recommending to my friends & family that they go with their internet provider's offer of free anti-virus (it's usually Norton now) - I do try to warn them that their downloaders will often include other software that they won't need and so make sure to only check the Norton. It prevents all that confusion with AVG (and Avast is better but it still needs to be registered and renewed.)

Posted by:

Dave Sumner
21 Jun 2014

I've been using Ubuntu for about 4months. I found out today that on installation the firewall is off by default. I am on the internet all day every day, I turned it on after reading this. Before I had windows hate (not a typo) my old legs got so tired of chasing out trojens, they eventually damaged 8 beyond what I could fix, I aked on a linux forum how I could scan and check for malware, i just loved the reply, "dont worry dave we did that for you last night,All is well. please pass by again sometime I'm Sally, I'm here to keep an eye on you." Ihad almost forget about allthis anti-virus stuff, aaarrrr the good old days.

Posted by:

21 Jun 2014

You might want to check out Baidu Antivirus. It is easy on the resources, updates without irritating announcements and is doing a great job on my desktop and laptop. Never heard of it before? Welcome to the Club! Consider this to be an opportunity to be 'Leader of the Pack'.

Posted by:

21 Jun 2014

As always an informative article. Me, I want a free AV that lets ME choose to Quarantine or not what the proggy says is a "baddie". Most of the AV's find something and Automatically quarantine or delete it and I DON'T WANT THAT. I have some proggys that show as "infected" but they are not, at least for me so I want an AV that lets ME choose. I am currently using Comodo Free and it is working well and I do also use EMET and Malwarebytes as further defense and of course MS Defender but have had to let MSEssentials go as it is unreliable for me and others.

Posted by:

Steve Stephenson
22 Jun 2014

The attached is typical of the posts in forums regarding Avast It doesn't matter whether it's the free or pro version. Comments please. It does make me wary, something so good suddenly changing its policy.

"Unexpected request to change homepage and search engine"

June 21, 2014 |

Version: Avast Browser Cleanup


None. Potentially I thought this feature might deliver security and performance improvements. But, after being told that my homepage had to changed, I didn't proceed.


Woah! What? The add-on removal requires selection of your homepage?! You get to choose between Yahoo and Bing. Only. Smell a big fat rat? You bet.


Luckily I have the free trial and no money has changed hands.

Read more: Avast Browser Cleanup - Free download and software reviews - CNET

Posted by:

22 Jun 2014

Had been using the free version of Avast for many years and paid for the Pro version when they they made me an offer good for two years, I couldn't refuse. While the free version was working well, I like having the extra features of the Pro version and it has continued to protect my PC in many areas. I have recommended Avast to many others who were unhappy with their antivirus software.

Posted by:

22 Jun 2014

Thanks for making things so clear. We "older ones" really appreciate it.

Posted by:

Byron Miller
23 Jun 2014

From my experience many companies will say "Free Download" which means the download of the program is free but you have to pay to install the program. A bit of salesman deception.
Many Free Programs will install the basic no frills antivirus program then keep popping up with adds to install the full program at a cost. The Free Program is a way to harvest your information and then spam your email and put pop ups on your screen in front of you. So free is not totally free. You agree in the terms of service to many things. It is wise to read the Term of Service Agreement before agreeing. It may take two or three days to read some of them but at least you will be aware of what information you agree to give away for the use of a Free program.

Posted by:

23 Jun 2014

I used the free version of Avast for the first year, then upgraded to the basic paid version, which I've used for the past three years. At a mere £29.99 per year for 3 machines it's still excellent value for money.

Posted by:

23 Jun 2014

I'm using the free Outpost Security Suite on this computer, Bit Defender + Comodo Firewall on the other. Both run smoothly, and, in fact, I've NEVER paid for an A-V.

Posted by:

25 Jun 2014

@Steve Stephenson --- I disagree with your comment, about Avast! Browser Cleanup.

First of all, this is a FREE program, not a "free trial", and can easily, be downloaded from the Avast! Store. I downloaded it and it didn't want to "change" my Browser's Homepage or tell me to use either Yahoo! or Bing.

Secondly, you wrote the "operative words" ... CNET!!! That is why you are getting all the bullsh**, on your computer!!! CNET is FULL of malware and crapware, along with spyware. CNET use to be one of the safest sites, for downloading various programs ... NOT any more!!! It is NOT coming from, believe me.

Just a small piece of advice. Read more of Ask Bob Rankin and you will learn what to avoid and what not to avoid, when it comes to using different programs. Bob and those of us, who follow him faithfully, have read his several articles about the CNET bullsh**.

Trust me, you are more "infected" with crapware programs, than you realize, due to downloading from CNET!!! Try getting rid of it, too!!! It takes an "act of Congress" and a LOT of work, on your part, to get rid of it.

Here, take the time to read this awesome article, by Bob, on CNET and a couple of other download websites, that were once, safe and secure. Here's the first article:

Then, there was this one:

Bob is one smart cookie, that honestly knows his way around the Web and honestly, tries to warn us, when there is trouble ahead.

Posted by:

26 Jun 2014


I hate seeing once-reputable companies like Cnet going down the sewer. And Avast is not the Avast of 10 years ago. They've added a lot of crap that you have to be sharp to avoid. But I can't avoid it all. I'm looking at the corner of my screen right now at a popup from Avast, offering me an upgrade for the World Cup. Yes, I know there's no connection.

Is anyone still using MSE on their XP computers?

Posted by:

27 Jun 2014

@Steve Stephenson --- I humbly apologize to you. I just read what I wrote and it does sound cold, hard and tactless. Please, that was never my intent.

Avast! is a good, solid AV Program, like AVG is. I do recommend both of them, to family and friends. I recommend the FREE versions, so, they can see how good both programs are and then, IF, they want to, they can purchase the Paid versions.

I do hope, you have read the two articles that, I recommended. Trust me, you need all of the information from those articles and several others that Bob has written about, on the Foistware subject.

Steve, many Geeks were "taken in" by CNET, before it was known that CNET doesn't provided any "security measures", for their downloading website. Oh, the downloads may not have Viruses, Trojan Horses and Worms ... But, it does have Malware and Spyware. I personally believe that, CNET is getting paid, for all of this and I think, it is because CNET is NOT on top of the computer ladder, anymore.

I personally, quit getting anything from CNET, several years ago. I was still using their "Update" your program that you downloaded, from CNET Download. It was last fall, that I realized that, I got malware/spyware on my desktop computer. Somehow, I missed Bob's wonderful article warning ALL of us, that CNET was now giving Foistware to everyone!!!

I honestly believe, this is why you are having "problems" with Avast! wanting to change your Home Page ... It isn't Avast! wanting to do this ... It is CONDUIT and SWEET PACKS and both of these "programs/applications" are almost impossible to removed, once they are deeply imbedded, like they were in my computer.

So, I humbly apologize, as it was never my intent to be anything, but helpful, understanding and kind.

Posted by:

27 Jun 2014

@Rochelle --- I am in full agreement with you, that it really is a "crying shame", when a good company that CNET was, goes down the drain, into the sewer. There have been several download websites that, were safe and now, are not safe ... Tucows is another one.

Right now, I will only go to or Major I know, that both of these websites are "safe and sound", for the moment. is run by and you can get many "Updates" for those programs that, are not done automatically ... Very much like CNET Download use to do!!! This is good to know.

As for Avast! not being the same product, like it was 10 years ago ... I think, the same can be said, of most any computer program, after 10 years. Especially, the Anti-Virus programs!

Posted by:

Ezra Shapiro
29 Jun 2014

MSE, Microsoft Defender (MSE's name in Windows 8) as well as BitDefender Free are completely free, even for commercial use and offer good protection that doesn't bother you while you're working. Avast Free and Avira are both great options, but Avast makes you register yearly, and Avira has a daily pop-up. As a computer technician, I can tell everyone wholeheartedly, to never install AVG. It slows down the computer immensely, its detection rates are routinely lower than the others according to 3rd party tests, it takes the initiative to turn off your internet (and, usually, when AVG does this, people bring their computers in, and after removing AVG and installing MSE, Defender, or BitDefender, a large portion of the problems are gone.

Posted by:

The Dean
30 Jun 2014

I run a small computer consulting/repair company and have used free antivirus products for my products for many years. I do my best to set them up properly and explain to the client how to continue to use the product for free. I do, however, encourage them to consider purchasing the upgraded version, as I feel it is the right thing to do--if you have been happy with the performance of the product for some time.

AVG was my choice several years ago, but then I moved to Avira as it had better detection rates and ran lighter on XP machines with limited RAM. When Avira got in bed with ASK I had to stop using it. I now use Avast and have to say I think it is simply fabulous compared to just about any other AV, free or commercial.

I understand the need/desire for these products to promote their paid-for products. But I can't say I'm a fan of some of the tactics. Avast has become a bit more irritating lately (Grime Fighter? SafePrice on their browser addon?) Still the value is so high it stays on my list. I tell my customers to "update but don't upgrade" and to ignore the popups about grime (yes, I disable it, but it still appears from time to time), optimization, etc.

Very nice article, BTW.

Posted by:

01 Jul 2014

Some things you said about AVG Free are not correct! AVGF has had rootkit protection since 2010. You didn't read the Wikipedia article carefully enough! Also, AVGF has daily definition updates and to my mind, enough frequent program updates. I've been using AVGF for over five years. For me, it is the best antivirus, antispyware free or paid! As an example, I have little fear of clicking on unknown links for two reasons! First, because I maintain frequent backups of my entire disk and second because AVG has never let me down in catching malware attached to some of the links.

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Article information: AskBobRankin -- No More Free Antivirus? (Posted: 20 Jun 2014)
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