Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Many computers come pre-configured with security suites. I'll look at why you might or might not want to keep them, and why they might not be free.

The McAfee Security Center that came with computer or with my MSN subscription. I'm not really sure where it came from, it was just there after I had my computer re-built. I've updated everything that needs to be updated and it says it's now protecting me from Viruses, Spyware, Adware, Firewall, everything.

What I'm still wondering is since the McAfee Security Center on my computer is a free service, what's all this 'Needing-to-have-an-Anti-Virus-program'? People are paying for other products - why wouldn't they just get a free service that comes with their set-up? Do i still need to buy an Anti-Virus Package for my computer?

There are several reasons that people might choose to purchase an anti-virus product.

The most obvious is that not everyone gets a security suite for free.

But even then, there are still reasons why people might elect to use a different solution, even paying money to do so.

What Your ISP Provides

I'm going to assume that your McAfee subscription came with your MSN subscription. That may not always be the case, as these types of cross-promotions often change. It's a fine assumption for our discussion.

Not everyone uses MSN as their ISP. And the deal that MSN offers may change.

Different ISPs offer different security solutions, and many offer none at all. In the later case it's totally up to you, the consumer, to make sure that you are properly protected. That means going out and getting an appropriate suite, an anti-virus, anti-spyware, firewall, or anti-whatever-else package.

Free is Not Always Free

You've indicated that your McAfee Security Center is free. That's pretty cool, and very unusual. Most of these types of offers are more commonly "free for a year" deals. What you might actually have is a trial product. At the end of a year you'll start to get nagged to purchase a renewal for what was up until then a free product. Then if becomes another decision point: pay to renew, or move to something else?

"I tend not to prefer security suites."

Security Suite versus Individual Applications

I tend not to prefer security suites. As I've stated elsewhere they tend to have one very strong component, say an anti-virus package, but the other components such as firewall or anti-spyware tools are sub par.

Also anecdotally: based on the questions I get, more people have problems with suites than with stand-alone products.

As a result, even though my most recently purchased computer did come with a suite pre-installed, I elected to remove that and replace it with individual packages that I feel protect me more reliably and with fewer problems. Some of the individual packages were free, but others were not.

Which actually leads to another reason for choosing a different solution than your free suite.

Free is not Always Best ... but then Neither is Commercial

There are plenty of free individual security tools out there. There are free anti-spyware packages, free anti-virus, and free software firewalls. They range from great to really bad.

But then so do the paid products.

When it comes to security, I look at price second. In my opinion it makes more sense to pay a reasonable price for a great, trouble-free solution than to take something less for free. That's not to say that free products are bad, because they're not necessarily. What I am saying is that whether or not something is free shouldn't be your first criteria when it comes to security.

As I write this, my top 2 recommendations for anti-spyware software are in fact free. But I still laid out my own money for my recommended anti-virus product because I knew it to be reliable and effective.

So How to Decide?

Others have different experiences, and that's where doing your homework plays a roll. You'll find many people singing the praises of various products, both commercial and free.

How do you know which one to choose?

In some ways, it boils down to how much work you want to do.

  • None - then run with the suite you have until there's a reason not to. You'll be reasonably well protected, and that's better than no protection at all. As I mentioned, you might perhaps run into an issue or two down the road, but then again many people are happily using that same suite without problems. If it asks you to renew in a year, then you can decide what to do then.

  • Some - if you only want to do a little legwork, then let someone else figure it out for you. By that I mean find a resource that you can trust, and follow their recommendations. It doesn't have to be me; there are several sources of these types of evaluations out on the web. Find one whose background, style, and language add up to something that makes sense to you, and follow their advice.

  • A Bunch - Naturally you can evaluate all the packages yourself. I'm not talking about installing them all, but rather doing some research on the web to see what's being said about each. Read others' reviews of the products and look for what level of problems people may or may not be having with the product.

Not all security suites or security products are created equal. Price is sometimes a component, but certainly not the most important. Just because you got one for free, it might not be the one you want to keep.

Article C3074 - July 3, 2007 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?


July 3, 2007 7:53 AM

All things considered, what do you, Leo, use? I am currently using the free versions of several products and have had no issues.

July 3, 2007 8:04 AM

I have used security suites in the past and have some experience with supporting them on the computers of others. (I do trouble-shooting on the side.) Most of the time, the suites provide a good level of protection, but, if you have the inclination and wish do do a little extra research, the same level (or higher) is available using the free versions of several products. Because I like to tinker, and am security conscious (don't open attachments until checked, use plain text in emails, don't click links without reading the status bar, etc) have have been fortunate to avoid virus/worms/trojans. I also keep my antispyware current and run it minimally every other day. Finally, one thing to consider about the commercial suites, it is very hard to completely remove them using only the uninstall feature. To completely remove the packages, you must sometimes manually remove registry entries (not for the faint hearted or inexperienced.) Good Luck


Leo A. Notenboom
July 3, 2007 11:45 AM

Hash: SHA1

I use:

. eTrust AntiVirus (not the suite). It was Microsoft's corporate solution
when I left.

. Microsoft Defender for anti-spyware. (I may revisit this, as I've heard what
could be credible concerns that it's not catching everything it should.)

. My NAT router as a firewall at home

. Windows built-in firewall when travelling.


Version: GnuPG v1.4.6 (MingW32)


George Arau
July 5, 2007 11:19 AM

Its a good idea to get all you can, but just dont go TOO overboard. New virus' are created everyday.

John Wilck
July 13, 2010 12:07 PM

I use Kaspersky 2010 Security Suite and it has performed flawlessly. It has blocked me from accidentally going to hazardous websites and has kept spyware and viruses at bay as well as succesfuuly removing a couple of trojans I never knew I had that had gotten through Norton. It is not a memory hog and runs seemlessly in the back ground. I just got my new PC, HP 360Z T1090 6 core 3.6 ghz AMD, 16gb ram, blue ray, TV tuner, 1 gig ATI video etc.... that came with 15 months free Norton 360 that I deleted. I pay for Kaspersky but it is worth it to me. My ISP also proveds McAfee which I had on My Dell Laptop that annoyed me beacause at start up it used all the system resources to update its definitions and run a scan. 4yrs of that came with my XPSM1710 and that was also deleted and replaced with Kaspersky before the subscription was up. Like Leo says it is a matter of preference, mine is Kaspersky.

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