You’re about to buy a new computer for the holidays and the salesperson says, “You’ll want to add the Security Software Suite’, of course.”

That’s another $80 to $100. But it’s not really a question the salesperson is asking, more a statement of natural fact like, “You don’t want to pay twice as much in taxes, of course.” And along with the statement you may hear some dark hints of viruses and hackers and spyware.

Oh my.

Except, security software spending isn’t as sure as death and taxes.

First, if you stay away from Internet Explorer, choosing instead to use the free Firefox or Opera browsers to see Internet web pages, you’re protected from nearly all spyware without even using any security tools.

Better yet, switch from Windows to Macintosh or Linux and you’re almost impervious to viruses: There are only two or three aiming that way vs. the thousands and thousands attacking Windows.

But, if you’ve just gotta stay with Windows and Internet Explorer, you still don’t have to pay for security software because you can get all you need for free. And it’s top-notch stuff: simpler, smaller and smarter than the ones you’d pay for.

Start with AVG Anti-Virus. This can find and eliminate computer viruses from your computer. AVG Anti-Virus will also work with your e-mail program to recognize and stop viruses before they ride in with the latest e-mail.

Viruses, by the way, are little programs that install and run without your knowledge, interfering with your regular programs, slowing down your computer, sending copies of themselves out to everyone on your e-mail address lists to try to infect their computers too, plus sometimes erasing or ruining documents and pictures you’ve saved on the computer, sometimes spying on your passwords to send them off to criminals, and sometimes turning your computer into a “zombie” that will e-mail spam messages through the Internet. In other words, you don’t want a virus.

Getting the software

Do you have a dial-up Internet connection? Then wait to get AVG until you have about an hour for the phone line to be tied up. If you have broadband DSL or cable it will take just a few minutes.

To get AVG, go to It’s kind of hidden among all the suggestions to try (and then pay for) Grisoft’s more advanced “full” anti-virus software. Which you don’t need. (But hey, it’s how they afford to give away the free version.)

Look to the list on the left, right below “Home” you’ll see “Get AVG Free”. Click on that. Another page appears. Scroll down to the bottom of the web page. Click on the orange, underlined “avg71free-362a652.exe”. (That may not be the precise name when you hit this page, because the number changes as the company improves and updates the software.)

Within 10 seconds you should see a new little window pop up asking what to do with this downloadable file. “Save to Disk” is what you want. If you’re asked where to save, choose someplace you’ll remember, then click OK.

Installing it on your computer

When the download is complete, there will be a copy AVG on your hard drive. But it won’t work until you “install.” To install, find the AVG file (you do remember where you said to save it, right?) and simply double-click on it. Then follow the on-screen instructions it will give.

If something confuses you, go back to that download page, where you found the “avg71free-362a652.exe” line, and just below you’ll see a downloadable “Reference Guide.” You can’t call for free tech support with this free program. Then again, even with the $70 Norton Security Suite, you pay $30 for each phone support incident. If you really want someone to call about AVG problems, you can at least pay for the Full version.

When you have AVG installed, you’ll be able to get free updates – details of the latest viruses so AVG can recognize new threats. That’s more money saved, because the “pay for it” security software often wants to charge for updates.

By the way, Avast ( and AntiVir ( also make free tools, and there are Web sites such as and that will scan your computer for viruses without any download. I like AVG best.

Phillip Robinson is founder of the NetForAmerica Internet service. He can be reached at [email protected]

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