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Pros and Cons of Free Anti-Virus Software

Posted on May 10, 2011
You know you should have anti-virus software to protect your computer, but you hate the idea of spending money for something you could get free elsewhere. Learn the benefits and disadvantages of free anti-virus programs.

As with almost anything, there are benefits as well as disadvantages to free anti-virus programs. Perhaps the most primary advantage is that there is no upfront cost associated with these free applications. Because they are free, you have the option of installing multiple anti-virus programs, giving you added protection against a wider array of potential threats.
Free software programs, anti-virus and otherwise, are often very basic and therefore are simple to use and understand. If you use a web-based anti-virus program, you may not even need to download anything at all—or the application launcher that you do download will be a very small file that is mainly just to help your computer connect to the online service. For example, Trend Micro's HouseCall ( is a popular online virus scanner that is browser independent and only requires that you download a 1.4MB file to use. Other respected security application developers, such as Symantec ( and Microsoft (, offer online virus scanning and removal tools as well.
Finally, a few free anti-virus programs offer some type of support, whether in the form of an FAQ page, a forum in which you can discuss questions and problems with other users of the program or an email address you can use to request assistance with an issue or concern.

On the other side of the same coin, free anti-virus software programs have their drawbacks. In fact, relying on free versions alone can be very dangerous.
Some free anti-virus programs are only intended as trial versions that you can use for a predetermined period to decide if you wish to purchase the full-featured version. While the program may continue to function after the trial period has ended, you will not receive any sort of updates, which are crucial since new viruses are constantly surfacing. In many cases, using software that has not been updated is akin to using none at all. On the other hand, paid anti-virus programs typically offer automatic updates. This ensures that you will always have the most current version of the software without having to remember to check for and install updates yourself.
In addition to a lack of updates, you may find a lack of help and support. When you choose a full-featured anti-virus software program, you have the added assurance of prompt support, which is provided directly from the software creator rather than with a help document or other users in a forum setting.
Paid anti-virus programs almost always offer many more features than their free counterparts do. These features, which may include a firewall, spam protection for email accounts, spyware protection, root-kit scanning and download scanning, provide far more powerful protection.
Malware can infect your computer and make it impossible for you to access the Internet. Therefore, if you solely rely on an Internet-based anti-virus program to protect your computer, you may find yourself in a tough situation should your computer become infected with a virus or spyware that affects your computer's connectivity.
Because free anti-virus programs must make money in some manner, many of them are dependent on advertising. This can result in an increase in annoying pop-ups. Even if they do not use outside advertisers as a form of income, you may be assaulted by ads for the software's full-featured version every time you start the program.
Last but certainly not least is the fact that free anti-virus software is potentially dangerous. Some seemingly beneficial programs may in fact be a vehicle for loading spyware onto your computer. Never download any software, particularly programs that are meant to protect your computer, unless it is provided by a completely reliable source.
On the other hand, trying free anti-virus software applications and trial versions offered by trusted vendors is a great way to find a product that you feel comfortable using and believe does a good job of protecting your computer. Keep in mind that when you do find a program that you like, it's generally a smart idea to upgrade to a paid version in that same product line to make sure that you have the full protection offered by timely automatic updates and other convenient tools. After all, a good anti-virus program is one of the least expensive investments that you can make to protect both your data and your privacy, and spending $3 or $4 a month is a small price to pay for that extra peace of mind.

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