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The operating system(OS) and the anti-virus program are two of the most important software you buy that affect your computing experience. They are the two programs that start as soon as your computer starts up and usually keep working silently in the background. They are usually forgotten all about - until disaster strikes. Choosing the right anti-virus for your PC is essential to keeping you protected from viruses while allowing you to get the most out of your computing experience. So don't just buy whatever the computer store salesman stuffs at you.

There are a large number of anti-virus programs in the market and no way of making a clear distinction of which anti-virus is better. This is because on the box all of them claim to do everything. Consumers usually buy the product which is more aggressively marketed. But each anti-virus has its own merits and some clearly outshine others.

When choosing an anti-virus choose one that is:

  1. Fast and efficient - Remember it will be running all the time so you don't want it eating up a lot of computer resources.
  2. Fairly priced.
  3. Clever enough to remember good programs on my computer and allow them to startup faster next time.
  4. Fast even when doing a comprehensive full system scan.
  5. Able to scan network traffic and downloaded files and emails automatically without having me to explicitly scan each file.
  6. Is able to actually detect a virus!
  7. Can it be installed even on an infected system.

It seems that the only way to test points 6 and 7 is to actually install a virus on your computer. Now you would not want to do that, but what many people don't know is that EICAR provide a test virus that does not do anything malicious but can be used for testing the alertness of your antivirus program.

I have found that Norton antivirus though a good product has very high prices, it is slow and usually comes with just 3 or 6 months of subscription out of the box. It annoys you with constant popups and reminders that your subscription will expire. I would not recommend it for home users. I have found many McAfee computers infected by viruses that are detected when you install another antivirus. Mcafee does not detect many viruses and is always late in detecting them. It does not have good virus removal features either. AVG Antivirus is offered free but it is slow, again virus detection is not great. The free version does not provide any virus removal features and updates are infrequent.

The one antivirus I have heard a lot of good things about is BitDefender Total Security 2009, though I have not tried this product myself. The antivirus I use and that has really impressed me is from Kaspersky Labs. It meets all the criteria I described. It is not overpriced and comes with a full one year of updates out of the box. You can buy a single PC edition, but as most of us have more than one computer, you can also buy a three PC licence. All licences come with at least one year of updates.

When online, it detects a link as infected even before you have clicked on it. Updates are released nearly every 15 minutes. The package also includes a network traffic scanner and an adware/spyware scanner besides the standard file and memory scanner. The scanners are all very efficient, so the performance impact is negligible and you wont even notice it is running. Full system scans take only a couple of minutes. Most options can be left at their defaults, but if you are keen you can fine tune down to the last detail. The one other feature I like is that the antivirus checks existing non-viral applications and notifies me of vulnerabilities in these and how to get updates to close off these vulnerabilities. So it has a complete vulnerability database besides the standard virus database. Finally it integrates brilliantly with Internet Explorer and Firefox as well as Outlook Express, Windows Mail and Thunderbird.

Kaspersky Labs also provide Kaspersky Internet Security, which is a more comprehensive product that includes Kaspersky Antivirus - but for most users just the Antivirus should suffice.