Free vs Paid Antivirus: Pros and Cons
Regular internet users probably already appreciate the importance of having some type of antivirus software on their computer. There are lots of threats online and these can harm your computer, compromise your privacy, or steal your money. If you go online with without some type of security protection, you will be at risk from viruses and other types of malicious software. The question should not really be if you need antivirus software, but if you should choose a free product or something you pay for.
Reasons for Choosing Free Antivirus Software
Free antivirus packages can offer a reasonable amount of protection online. If you only use the internet occasionally, and you are very careful about the software or files you allow onto your computer, this will probably be enough to offer you a reasonable amount of security.
One of the nice things about the free versions is that they tend to be very basic, and this means that they are generally easy to use. Most of the premium products will also have a free version available, and it can be a good idea to try these before buying.
How Much Do You Hate Ads?
No one actually likes having their products or favorite websites littered with it, but ultimately it’s – ahem – the price you pay for free stuff. Because the thing is, nothing's really free.
Of course, you might not particularly care about a few ads, or even about sharing some of your data in return for free virus protection. You might well think that’s a fair exchange – and that’s totally your call. But if you’re looking for a solution that promises to safeguard your privacy as well as your security, you will need to pay actual money for it.
Disadvantages of Free Anti-Virus Software
The reality is that you sort of get what you pay for with free antivirus software. The disadvantages of choosing this option would include:
The free software will only have a limited number of features.
The free versions focus more on dealing with problems that have already happened rather than preventing them happening in the first place.
The providers of this software have to make money somehow, and this may mean that you will need to put up with annoying pop-up ads.
- It is unlikely that you will get quality customer service with the free version. This inability to have problems resolved quickly could put your machine in jeopardy.
Reasons to Choose Premium Antivirus Software
Many of the providers of antivirus software will offer a free and premium version of their product. The free version is basically a marketing tool to encourage customers to invest some money in the paid package. It is sort of like choosing to test-drive the product before committing to buying it. The most common reasons for why you might choose to purchase the paid software will include:
It will provide you with increased protection.
The premium products not only detect threats after they happen, but they also prevent them from happening in the first place.
There will usually be lots of extra functions with the premium version.
The paid software can have some nice additional features such as email spam filters and parental control options.
It should be updated more frequently, and this means that the software will be better able to deal with the threats that are currently in circulation.
It means that you will not be bugged all the time with advertisements asking you to purchase the paid version.
If you purchase a quality product, it should mean that you will have access to high quality customer service.
More Than Anti-Malware
Free antivirus software can be quick way to put up some defense to viruses, but the best thing about premium antivirus options is that they fight off more than just simple malware. This is a hugely competitive industry, and there are all kinds of perks available, depending on your most pressing security and privacy concerns.
For example, if you have a big family or kids and you’re worried about their internet access, you’ll probably be interested in features like advanced parental controls and social media protection tools.
If you do a lot of shopping or banking online, investing in an internet security suite that includes a firewall or VPN will help to keep your details safe, while a decent password manager will steel you against potential hacks. If you use your PC for work, you might be drawn to vendors that offer perks like free online backups, DropBox accounts with plenty of online storage, or performance-enhancing tools to keep your computer running at top speed.
These features tend to be exclusive to paid packages – you can’t usually get them for free. Don’t go buying stuff for the sake of it, but have a careful look at what’s on offer. You might find that, for a small amount of money each month, you can combine excellent antivirus with the perfect features to suit your needs.
Very often, free antivirus software allows you to run scheduled or manual scans, meaning viruses can potentially wheedle their way into your PC between checks.
On the other hand, a common perk that comes with most premium subscriptions is real-time virus scanning. Constant, real-time scanning in the background is much more effective – but you will probably need to pay for it.
How Many Devices Do You Use?
We’ve never heard of a free antivirus that allows you to manage multiple devices with one central dashboard, but this is a very common feature among paid alternatives.
If you want complete coverage for phones and tablets, or several laptops and PCs, it may make more sense to pay out for your internet security suite, rather than messing around with updates and installations on every different device you own.
What’s more, these often come with awesome anti-theft and tracking tools, in case anyone that shouldn’t happens to get their mitts on your stuff!
Generally speaking, downloading the free antivirus options from any of the top providers on the market will protect you pretty well against viruses, spyware and other malware. And the free stuff is infinitely better than nothing at all. But if you want a more pleasant or flexible user experience, you really will have to cough up for premium cover. Ditto if you want to make use of the best privacy, security or performance-boosting features available on the market.
Finally, bear in mind that no security system is 100% perfect. There may be times when something unpleasant gets into your PC. There may be times when a bug in the program causes it to crash, or cause trouble, or you can’t work out how to change the settings to make it work the way you want to. In these situations, having the option to call up and get free, expert advice or tech support will feel like a godsend - but that’s an option that only exists if you’re willing to pay for it.
At the end of the day, if you’re comfortable enough that you can troubleshoot these problems on your own, then so be it. If you’re not, you might have to get out your wallet.
Want to learn more about the top antivirus software providers? Read our expert reviews here.