Free Anti-Virus – The Best Way to Protect Your PC

Summary Difficulty Rating Time to complete
Replacing your existing Anti-virus with a free alternative.   20-30 minutes

As I mentioned in my last post, the first question I ask is whether people have a backup.   The second question ask is whether they have up-to-date anti-virus software installed.

A shocking number of people fall into the group of having anti-virus software that hasn’t been updated since their trial period ended, and yet still believe they are protected.

Let me make this clear – if your subscription has expired then you are NOT protected.

But who can blame them?  Anti-virus software is expensive, isn’t it?

If you go with what arrived on your PC then, yes, it is expensive.  PC manufacturers make extra money by including software (known collectively as Bloatware) because vendors pay them.  Norton and McAfee fully expect you to sign up when the trial period runs out because you don’t know that you have a choice.

But there are companies that offer great anti-virus solutions for free!  Why?  Well, some do it for philanthropic reasons while others (e.g. Microsoft) do it because they need Windows to appear secure if they want people to buy it.

Replacing your existing anti-virus with a free alternative is a relatively painless procedure involving 3 easy steps.

  1. Remove your existing anti-virus
  2. Install the new anti-virus
  3. Configure your anti-virus to automatically update and scan your machine

Here we will cover installing Microsoft Security Essentials.  Why MSE?  Well, as I see it, Microsoft know more about their products than anyone else and have a vested interest in presenting Windows as virus free.  Unlike the big boys in the virus world, it is not in Microsoft’s interest to have you worrying about viruses.  I have also found MSE to take less CPU than some of the other offerings.

Let’s get started.

1. Removing your existing Anti-virus

Since most PCs come with Norton or McAfee installed the first thing we need to do is remove that, because running multiple copies of AV software is really bad news.  Normally this is a simple affair, however do not take this step until you are ready to complete step number 2, otherwise you will be left completely naked – and for some of you that isn’t going to be anything we want to see!

To remove your existing software click the Start button and select “Control Panel”.  Depending on which version of windows you are running you will then take one of several options:

  • Windows XP:
    Select the option “Add or Remove Programs”  
  • Windows 7 or Windows Vista:
    Select the option “Uninstall a program” 

Wait for the list of programs to populate and then then locate your current AV software.  Click on that program name to highlight it and then click Remove (Windows XP) or Uninstall (Vista/Windows 7).  Follow the prompts to uninstall the software.  Make sure that you reboot your machine after uninstalling to be sure it completes this process.

During this step you will most likely receive warnings that your PC is unprotected.  Don’t worry – we will fix that in step 2.

Note: If you already have a paid subscription then uninstalling the program will not stop future payments - many companies default to charging your credit card each year "for your protection" and you will need to contact them to stop future payments. 

2. Installing Microsoft Security Essentials

Now we are ready to install the Microsoft anti-virus software on your machine.  To do this open a browser and visit this link – Microsoft Security Essentials.  Select the Free Download link and select the version for your Operating system.

If you are given the option to Run the software – take that.  If not, download the program to somewhere you can find it later, open that folder and (once the download is complete) and double-click to start the install.

Follow the instructions on the screen (which involves clicking Next a couple of times, plus agreeing to the software license).

3. Configure your anti-virus to automatically update and scan your machine

Once the install is finished take the option to scan your machine for threats.  Doing this will automatically download the latest virus definitions are part of the scanning process.  Your PC will continue to show an “at risk” status until this first scan is complete.   This first scan can take a while, depending on how large your machine is, however you can continue to use your machine while this is working.

Finally, you are going to want to set up your anti-virus to automatically scan your PC on a periodic basis.  This allows the scanning (which can slow your machine) to occur while you are not using the machine, and because it will download new definitions before each scan.

To set this up run the software (it will already be running if you are following on from above) by clicking on the little castle in the toolbar.  Select the Settings tab and set up a time when your PC will be on but not in use.  Make sure that the option to check for the latest virus and spyware definitions box is checked.

That’s it!  Now you can continue to enjoy the use of your PC free from viruses and without fear that your subscription will run out.  Better yet, you have just saved yourself  $50 per year, all for 20 minutes work.

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8 Comments

Filed under Free Software, PC Problems?, Viruses, Windows

8 responses to “Free Anti-Virus – The Best Way to Protect Your PC

  1. Good, sensible, straightforward advice! For extra security, download and save Microsoft Security Essentials to your hard disk before step 1, but don’t run it. Then disconnect from the internet to avoid malicious intruders while you are vulnerable. Run through steps 1 and 2 above (download already done) and reboot with anti-virus protection in place.Then reconnect to the internet and complete step 3. Better safe than sorry!

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  3. Good stuff. I just found your blog while searching around in Google. I’m looking for some information on removing some nasty bug my computer got that sends pop-ups to my screen. I cant even search the internet from my computer because it keeps taking me to some sales page for a virus cleaner. I’m not stupid enough to fall for that one. I had to use an old laptop just to search around for some help. OK, back to the point. I found your blog, now I’m off to find some help. You seem knowledgable on the subject, if you get a chance, how about posting some info to help with one of these pop-up virus things? I’m sure I’ll be back later and probably be infected again. 😦 Thanks Mate!

    • Sorry to hear your having trouble.

      Since your PC is already infected I would suggest using the “Rescue CD” option that AVG provides. Here is the link: http://www.avg.com/us-en/avg-rescue-cd
      You can create a CD or a bootable USB drive (if your PC will take that). The good news is that this runs on a version of Linux so it shouldn’t be affected by any Windows stuff and you can use that to clean your hard drive.

      If you can I would suggest using a friends PC to create the boot disk/USB drive – just to be on the safe side.

      Good luck and let me know how you get on.

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