There are two sayings that conflict: "The best things in life are free" and "You get what you pay for." It remains to be seen which best describes newly released free security offerings from Microsoft and AVG, including the free version of AVG 9.0 release that was announced Monday, and Microsoft Security Essentials, which launched Sept. 29.
While it has long been possible to use virus protection without spending a cent, the new releases suggest that the sophistication of free software is growing. The issue is whether the quality is there, as well.
First, it's important to clarify that AVG and Microsoft offer paid versions of their anti-virus programs, as well as the free versions. The question is whether the free offerings are sufficient and for whom.
In terms of the new releases, industry contacts haven't had a chance to form too much of a reaction yet, but there are some early indications. Ben Howard, an IT consultant for NSK, has used Microsoft Essentials since its release last week and has significant experience with AVG 8.5. He offers a mixed review of the Microsoft product.
"I haven't detected anything wrong," he says. "It seems to be running seamlessly and hasn't shut down or crashed. I did notice that the auto-update feature got five or six days out of date before I clicked on it to manually update."
It's clear that Howard wants to see a significant improvement between AVG 8.5 and 9.0 before advocating the upgrade. "I have used AVG 8.5 extensively," he said. "It is relatively painless for users. But from the administrator's point of view, it misses quite a few viruses. Just last week I uninstalled 8.5 for one of my clients and installed another product. I instantly found dozes of viruses that AVG missed."
G.F. Bryant, president and CEO of The Bryant Group, a consultancy in Wilmington, N.C., said his clients that are using AVG are doing well with it, and he doesn't advocate changing packages unless there is a specific problem or issue. Bryant says it's a bad idea to use free software, though that problem is ameliorated to a great extent because the companies involved are well known and respected.
AVG 9.0 features significant enhancements to the company's family of free and paid security applications. AVG says the software features identity-theft protection created in partnership with Intersections Inc.
The software, according to the company, includes new scanning technology, less-intrusive firewall protection, and improvements in boot time and memory usage. The company says AVG 9.0 has tight integration between its Resident Shield, firewall and identity-protection elements.
Microsoft Security Essentials offers real-time protection. The idea is to query a dynamic signature service to identify threats even before they are included in daily signature downloads. The system also offers rootkit protection and reputation services, which is a means of separating legitimate from potentially dangerous software based on the track record of the source.
The company says Security Essentials offers lightweight design, CPU throttling to free up as much machine capacity as possible without compromising protection, idle-time scanning, smart caching, and active memory swapping. The software needs Windows XP or later.