Antivirus Subscription Inflation

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2003-07-13 Print this article Print

Home users with multiple computers get gouged if they want to be conscientious. Things may get worse next year.

Its common that the sticker price on a product or service isnt the complete story. I just bought a minivan, and when it was all over, I had spent a few thousand more than I had anticipated. It was all stuff that I decided I wanted and, the price is fair—but the numbers can add up. Software purchases can follow this sort of upward spiral, too.

A reader recently e-mailed me to complain about the high cost of antivirus subscriptions. He has six computers and has legitimate copies of antivirus and personal firewalls and subscriptions for all of them. He says that the subscription costs have risen to about $150 per year.

Thats pretty steep. I made some calls: As far as I can tell, none of the major antivirus/personal firewall companies give a break for users with this number of systems, and thats unfair. In fact, if Im not mistaken, most of the major companies have been increasing their subscription costs over the past few years. And its obviously something theyre not proud of, since they make it almost impossible to look up the resubscription costs on their Web sites. You dont find out until your subscription is about to run out and you get the bill.

I think I know what a lot of people would do in this situation: Since antivirus and personal firewalls dont have any kind of copy-protection, they would make do with one copy and use it on more than one system. Besides being wrong, this option will begin to recede when the 2004 versions of Symantec utilities roll out digital rights management (a more modern and snazzy-sounding name for copy protection) in all editions.

What legal and worthwhile options are there? The first that comes to mind is Grisoft AVG Free Edition and AVG Professional Single Edition. The Free Edition is gratis, as are updates and definitions, but only under some pretty strict rules: The more advanced features of the program are removed (although they arent critical to antivirus protection); there is no technical support; its only available in English; and it cannot be installed on servers—or in any networked environment.

I wrote a PC Magazine Personal Antivirus review a couple years ago that included AVG Free, and the results werent pretty. I did say that you were far better off running AVG Free than nothing, but that all of the pay products had better results. More thorough and recent results can be found at Virus Bulletin, and they show a good result for the most recent test, preceded by a lot of failures.

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Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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