Thought for the day: Double indemnity

Can "free" anti-virus software do a better job of working with the Windows operating system than commercial products, asks Simon...

Simon Moores  

Can "free" anti-virus software do a better job of working with the Windows operating system than commercial products, asks Simon Moores.



To have one laptop expire is unfortunate but to have two collapse and die smacks of carelessness.

I’m writing this column on a very old Macintosh Powerbook that works regardless of age and abuse.

You may remember that last month Microsoft very kindly rebuilt one of my two Hewlett-Packard laptops, post Service Pack 2 installation. It has been a slow process because I wanted to know what the problem was in detail.

Last week, however, my more powerful HP machine suddenly died with a system error; a corruption of the password file, which left it in a constant re-boot cycle until I pressed the reset button. Microsoft sent a courier for that one too.

For a while I was back in a world without the internet, until I worked out how to connect my old Macintosh to my ADSL router.

To have two machines die in such a short period of time begs a number of important questions. The second event seems quite straightforward, a corruption of ISASS.exe. This locks me out of the system at power-up and is easily repaired by Microsoft technical support with one of its “secret” utilities.

The original problem with laptop number one, however, had little to do with Windows and a lot to do with the problem of anti-virus software. In this case, the system was freezing, my network connection had ceased to exist and the anti-virus supplier’s technical support had no idea what to do next.

I’ve used the same anti-virus product for years and it has been very effective at keeping the nastier side of the internet out of my PC. However, over the last two years several nasty system crashes appear to be a consequence of its use of the Windows operating system.

Microsoft ran a series of timed tests on my laptop with and without my anti-virus software and spent several hours on the phone with the supplier’s technical support team. In a nutshell, the laptop was running almost 40% more slowly on start-up with it installed. This was more pronounced because the system was three years old and the disc was relatively full.

Now comes the surprise. Microsoft "suggests" rather than recommends that I remove my existing anti-virus software from my system completely and instead use the "free" anti-virus software AVG instead.

In fact Microsoft installed this for me. Although AVG doesn’t scan as "deeply" as its commercial rivals, it appears to work quite satisfactorily. Naturally, I’m quite happy to take Microsoft’s advice if I want a fully working system returned.

This type of suggestion must surely come as a blow to the lucrative anti-virus industry. If anyone suggests that a free solution, such as AVG, is just as good as, if not equal to, the handful of big players, the industry is turned neatly on its head.

Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of leading industry analyst Dr Simon Moores of Zentelligence.

Acting globally, Zentelligence (Research) advises governments, suppliers, business and the media on the evolution, application and delivery of leading-edge technologies, and specialises in the areas of e-government and information security.

For further information on Zentelligence and its research, presentation and analyst services, visit

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