No More Free Antivirus?
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:
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.
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...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 20 Jun 2014
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- No More Free Antivirus? (Posted: 20 Jun 2014)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved