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Keep Your PC Virus-Free

Here are three effective alternatives to retail antivirus software -- all for free.

OK, let's face it -- there's really nothing sexy, exciting or particularly interesting about antivirus software. Mention the topic at your next party and you might find your social calendar refreshingly clear for a while.

But when it does its job, it keeps you from having to confront something even less sexy, exciting or interesting: reloading your computer's operating system, applications and all your data files. That's something readers of

The Millionaire Zone

can appreciate.

Do you really need virus protection? Absolutely. Even with


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improved network security and continuous patch releases, it's a sad fact that the PC has become even more vulnerable to attacks.

Today, an unprotected machine connected to the Internet can be infected in less than a minute. After a day, it could easily have as many as 200 different viruses, Trojan horses and spyware programs.

So you do need protection. Now the question is what kind? Do you need one of those expensive bundled products that include antivirus, antispyware, a firewall and system tools, such as those offered by


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Answer: Probably not.

The suite products are very complete, and their all-in-one aspect is attractive to the typical user. But Microsoft Windows XP and Vista already have a competent firewall and an antispyware utility. So a good antivirus program is all you need.

Now, is that something you have to buy? As it turns out, no.

Click here for the video version of this story from Jennifer Openshaw.

I found two free, downloadable antivirus solutions as well as some online virus-scanning alternatives. All three work better and will save money and headaches for home office and personal users.

  • Avira AntiVir PersonalEdition Classic . The program supports Windows XP and Vista and is fully supported with free periodic updates. It's a fully featured program, not a trial version, and it's free. Why? Because it's part of a more complete product line offered by the company, which of course it hopes to sell. But the program works well, and the price is right.
  • AVG Anti-Virus Free . This program is very similar to the Avira product. I'll share here a recent test of 17 retail products: When testing for nearly half a million different viruses, detection success ranged from 82.4% to 99.5%. Avira and AVG both detected more than 96.3% of the viruses.
  • Online virus scans. These tools download a small virus-scanning program to check your PC against an online database of virus definitions. The advantage is that the definitions are up-to-date. The disadvantage: It's a one-time shot, and no protection remains on your PC, so you must run it periodically. Two tools I found are offered by F-secure and Trend Micro. Again, both are free.

When you look at the big picture, I see three reasons to adopt one of these approaches instead of buying and installing the packaged retail virus bundles:

  • Performance. These programs perform at least as well as their more expensive counterparts, and in many cases better. A single-purpose program also uses less memory and other resources, allowing your PC to run faster.
  • Safety. When you use a retail product with a large installed base, it's worth noting that most newer viruses are already well aware of Symantec (Norton) and McAfee antivirus programs. You may well be safer using a product not so well known to the hacker community.
  • Cost. It's hard to beat free. By contrast, most of the suite products sell for $70 to $90 per computer and require a yearly fee for updates.

Now, I don't always leave matters of safety and protection to devices. Some of it is a matter of behavior and common daily practice, just like the philosophy of The Millionaire Zone. Even with a good antivirus program protecting you, you should always observe safe computing practices.

That said, setting up Windows properly and getting access to some virus protection will provide critical reliability and peace of mind. These solutions are easier, they work better, and best of all, they're free.

Jennifer Openshaw, a passionate advocate for helping Americans improve their finances and build their personal fortunes, is CEO of

The Millionaire Zone and America Online's personal finance editor. In addition to appearing regularly on TV shows such as "Oprah" and "Good Morning America" and on CNN, Openshaw is host of ABC Radio's "Winning Advice" and serves as an adviser to some of America's top corporations. Her new book,

"The Millionaire Zone," hit bookstores in April 2007.