Antivirus Subscription Inflation

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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