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Free vs. Paid AntiVirus Software - Which is right for me?

More people than ever are using the Internet to connect with friends and family, to pay bills, and to use online banking. With all of this information being put through your computer, it's important to know that the computer you're using is safe from viruses and other programs that can steal your information. Using antivirus software is a key part in keeping the information safe on your computer and not falling victim to identity theft or acquiring a computer virus while surfing the web. But is it worth it to shell out $40 or more a year for a commercial antivirus program? We'll compare free & paid antivirus below...

Support: One big difference between free antivirus and paid antivirus is the level of support offered to users. Since the companies that produce paid antivirus programs obviously make a good deal of money from it, they're able to hire people to work in call centers that you can call to help assist you with any problems you may have with their software, as well as having knowledgeable technicians answering your emails. On the other hand, free anti-virus programs usually have very limited support - usually web forums, knowledgebases, and tutorials. None of the free support is usually personal, one-on-one contact with knowledgeable technicians via email or phone. Because of this big difference in levels of support, a lot of people prefer to pay for their antivirus program for added peace of mind.

Features: Another big difference between the free and paid antivirus programs is what features the programs come with. Many advanced features are removed in the free antivirus offerings. This gives the antivirus companies a sales pitch to lure users into upgrading to their paid versions for "increased security." This is what we call the Nag Factor with free antivirus programs - users are often bombarded with pop-ups, banner ads, or other advertising urging them to upgrade to the paid service.

Despite the disadvantages in Support and Features, there is a time and a place where free antivirus software can be sufficient. If you have a computer that doesn't access the Internet, or that you only use for playing games and other applications, then free antivirus will usually be sufficient since there is no possibility of constant threats coming in via an Internet connection. For users with sensitive data on their PC's they wish to protect, or for those wanting that extra layer of protection and peace of mind that commercial antivirus affords you, then paid antivirus may be the better alternative.

Bottom-line, free anti virus software can be an effective security solution if coupled with other free applications such as free Anti-Spyware and free Firewall software. However, users of free antivirus software have to be more proactive in their computer's security since they don't have the same level of tools and support offered by paid antivirus software. For these reasons, computer novices are often better served by buying commercial antivirus software due to the increased levels of Support and Features, and of course peace of mind.

Article last updated May 11, 2011.* Read our paid Antivirus Reviews for more antivirus alternatives.

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