Who Pays for Virus Protection Anymore?

by Nolan Crabb

Jefferson City, Missouri

Let's face it, there are people who will pay for something even if that something can be had for free. Most of the time, we feel a little sorry or even laugh about the silly ineptness of deliberately paying for something that can be procured at no cost.

This is especially true in the realm of virus protection software. The average computer user, if he has virus protection software at all, probably didn't pay for it. It either came bundled on his computer or he learned about AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition from Grisoft. Inevitably, there are some readers of this column who are asking, "Who in the world would pay for virus protection when you don't have to?" Well, the answer is, I did. But before you fling your copy of the magazine aside in disgust and write me off as someone worthy of your pity but not your precious time as a reader, please allow me to explain.

First, I am going to add to your confusion by telling you that the free antivirus program that is widely used is probably a fine program. Its functions are certainly accessible to screen reader users, and although those functions are limited, the program will likely do a reasonable job of keeping your system free of viruses. So if the free one actually works, why did I pay?

After a long and exhaustive search for either a free or inexpensive antivirus program, I settled on NOD32 Antivirus from ESET, which costs $39 for a one-year subscription. After using the program for nearly a month, I am convinced I spent my money wisely.

For many years, I used Norton AntiVirus from Symantec. Norton was always bloated and slow, but it did a good job, and later editions even protected my computer from spyware and other evil doers. But the latest incarnation of Norton AntiVirus is less accessible to JAWS and Window-Eyes than its predecessors. I determined that 2007 was the year Symantec and I would part company.

I had, as part of my search, sent a flurry of e-mails to screen reader users asking for recommendations. While AVG Anti-Virus received high praise, especially for a free product, I heard repeatedly about NOD32 Antivirus. Screen reader users assured me that NOD32 worked nicely with both JAWS and Window-Eyes and that NOD32 would be much easier on my aging computer than Norton.

One of the major deciding factors in my purchase was that my 17-year-old daughter uses my computer too. She is an adventurous downloader, and although she is extremely tech savvy, occasionally she has been known to accidentally snag something a little murky and demonic in terms of its virus payload. I needed a program that would protect us from new viruses and spyware. That is how I justified spending the $39. The AVG free edition does not include spyware protection but NOD32 does.

With NOD32, I not only have excellent virus protection, but I also have enhanced speed and performance I did not know my old computer could achieve. To buy the program, simply download it from the Web. Complete a registration form prior to download, and if you want to go ahead and purchase the program, include your credit card information. Be aware that there is a 30-day trial period before you must buy the program if you just want to try NOD32 out on your system.

The NOD32 program installs quickly and easily. In fact, I spent more time removing Norton from my system registry than I did installing NOD32. If you switch from Norton, you will likely also have a difficult time making all of its fragments disappear. Once your old virus software has been removed, NOD32 settles right in and begins updating itself as soon as it is successfully installed. The updates download very quickly. NOD32 uses such a small amount of memory, especially compared to Norton, that you will definitely notice a difference.

I assumed my computer was virus-free. After all, Norton had assured me repeatedly that my system was clean. I decided to do an on-demand scan with NOD32 as soon as the installation was complete. To my surprise and chagrin, the new program found a trojan on my drive, which it eradicated without delay.

The NOD32 interface is best described as a tree view. Instead of using the right arrow key, press control-tab to access the settings for each item in the tree view. Want to turn virus protection off on your e-mail program? Use the down arrow key to find your e-mail program in the list and press control-tab to see all of the settings for your program.

NOD32 lives unobtrusively in your system tray until you need it. As of this writing, I am a little dissatisfied with the scheduler, which allows you to schedule scans of your hard drive at various intervals. I can't decide whether my limitations as a computer user is the issue or whether the scheduler really can't do what I want it to do--scan my drive on a specific day each month. I can set up one scheduled monthly scan, but getting it to extend throughout the year hasn't yet proven successful. Stay tuned.

The bottom line is... if you rarely touch the Internet and don't do much with e-mail, then the free AVG product will probably work fine for you. But if you want a high degree of peace of mind at a lightning speed without a memory hog, then you should consider NOD32 Antivirus. Will I renew my subscription to NOD32 Antivirus in 2008?

Unless the developers render the program inaccessible, my answer is absolutely.

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