Commerical Antivirus Software vs. Free Antivirus Software? Should I Buy Antivirus Software?

I’m often asked which is better: free antivirus software (avg free, comodo, avira) or commercial antivirus software (norton antivirus, trend micro).

The answer is: it depends.

For advanced users or users that really have an interest in installing, monitoring and maintaining the software, a free program is great. One of the limitations of a free antivirus solution is that oftentimes theses programs:

1) do not always update virus definitions automatically
2) do not always run constantly in the background (e.g. constant monitoring of your system)

Another problem with free virus protection programs or when you get antivirus protection for free is that many of the free programs do not also combine an antispyware or antiphishing component unless you upgrade to a paid version.

Thus, if you are running your antivirus protection for free, you may need to run other additional programs to have complete system protection including some type of anti-malware or anti-spyware software.

Switching the discussion to commercial solutions, many of these products come as integrated suites – a package that contains antivirus, antispyware as well as antiphising and other features that you may or may not need such as parental controls — this fact generally eliminates the need for running multiple security programs. The problem with an integrated security suite is that not every program does everything well. Some suites may be better at antivirus than they are at antispyware, so before you buy a commercial product I would advise reading current ratings of the software from sources like and other users who have experience with the software. And always rely on a current version review — Norton Internet Security 2009 had a lot of problems whereas Norton Internet Security 2010 is thought to be a better product.

Having commercial software will automate most of the updating and scanning that virus protection software needs to do. If you do elect to go with a commercial product, make sure you pick one that has a license for multiple computers. For example, most companies will offer a 1-computer license with a year of updates for $30-50, whereas they will sell you a 3-computer license for $70 or $80. So if you do have more than one machine, I do advise you purchase the 3-user license version of the software.

Note that most commercial products run on a subscription model. You pay up front for the software and one-year of updates. After the year has expired, the company will want to charge you a fee (usually somewhere close to the original price of the software) to maintain the updated virus definitions.

So in summary, for a home user that’s hands-off that wants one product that does it all, I advise making the plunge and spending the money for a commercial product. But for the user that really wants full control of security, I’d advise using a combination of products to handle your security needs. Currently my favorite combination is Avira Free, Comodo firewall, Malwarebytes Anti-Malware and SuperAntiSpyware. You can get all of these products from a reputable site such as

The best advice, of course, is to browse smartly and be careful where you venture on the internet…

The paid upgrade version of these programs generally will handle these features.

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