By James Edwards

Whenever the discussion of free versus paid comes up in relation to antivirus software, the question of efficacy soon follows. Is a free version just as good as a paid version? The reality is that there is not a simple answer.

What is Antivirus Software?
According to a German security research organization, there are over 50 million different kinds of computer viruses in existence, and there are roughly a dozen or so that pop up every day. Antivirus firms are unable to keep up with this kind of distribution from hackers, which is partly why they offer free versions as well as paid versions of their software.

Antivirus software is software designed to detect and delete malware, spyware, and other viruses that can be picked up from the internet. There are basically four levels to antivirus software: free, paid, suites, and premium suites. The free programs typically offer the basics, such as a simple search and destroy of malware. As you progress through the different types of protection, more advanced features can be added on.

Given the demand on antivirus software to keep up with the growth of new viruses and because of the number of potential viruses, companies started offering free software to protect the industry and consumers. It used to be that the paid services were far superior in quality and ability to function, but in recent years, the game has changed. Free versions of software are being made stronger, more effective, and tax your computer’s resources less. There are many benefits a consumer can get from a paid service that they can’t get from a free one, but in terms of the basics such as finding and deleting malware, the free versions are comparable.

What is the Difference between Free vs. Paid Antivirus Software?
The difference between the free versions of antivirus software and the paid versions are much like the differences between a trial version and a paid version of anything else. Free antivirus software tends to be very basic in its functionality. The program will scan your PC and detect if there is any malware, spyware, or viruses, and then it will delete them. In comparison tests, the free software rated equal to that of the paid software when it came to finding and deleting malware.

The paid software has extra features such as identity theft protection and parental controls. You can download free antivirus software for Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8, or any other version you are running.

Should You Go with the Free Software or the Paid Software?
Deciding which software works best for you is a matter of personal need. If the basics are all you’re looking for, then a free version would most likely suffice. If you require the parental controls to keep kids off of sketchy websites, or if you want to avoid false-positives when the software scans the system, then a paid version might be better for you. Free versions generally do not come with phone support, they have advertisements when in use, and they can sometimes be cumbersome to install.

Paid versions are easier to install, do not have advertisements attached to them, and offer additional features such as parental controls, which makes it easier for parents to control which websites their kids visit. Ultimately, the end user’s need will determine which version works best for them.

Which Free Antivirus Software Should You Download?
According to The Last Watchdog, a survey of 2,500 Americans found that 46% of respondents used free antivirus software (2010). The trend is expected to continue its upward progression as more money-conscious individuals begin to feel the need to protect their computers. While there are many options available to consumers, not all free antivirus software is created equal. Many people are finding they receive excellent virus protection with Immunet 3.0, and the features are a bit more impressive than the standard free software options.

Immunet 3.0 was created by Sourcefire, and it provides the essential protection every PC needs. It has more than 2.2 million members, and has identified and protected against 33.4 millions threats. The company uses the combined intelligence from the growing community to locate and destroy threats, it is backed by the speed of cloud computing so it does not slow down your PC, and it incorporates social media into its security approach.

When it comes to deciding if you should use the free software or pay to have more advanced features, the best thing to do is to decide what you need out of your software. If you need a simple, clean program that will scan your computer and take care of any threats, you can choose the free software. In fact, if you go with the free software, you can select Immunet 3.0 and experience features other companies require you to pay in order to use. However, if you need something more advanced, you can choose a paid service instead.

James Edwards is a network security expert by profession who has a passion for writing articles on topics related to computer security and malware.