Many people have strong religious convictions about antivirus and security programs for PCs. I’m guilty of that too but let me try to step back and give you a reasonably unbiased overview of where we are in 2009.

For the last few years, I’ve been recommending Microsoft Windows Live OneCare to anyone looking for direction. It takes over several important chores – antivirus and spyware protection, backups, installation of updates to Windows and Office, defragging the hard drive, cleaning up temporary files – and makes them relatively simple, with a minimum of fuss and a small impact on system performance.

Sadly, Windows Live OneCare is being taken off the market. If you’re not already using it, it’s not the right choice. If you are using it and your subscription is going to expire in the next few months, I’m uncertain about whether you should renew it.

Sometime this summer, Microsoft will release basic free antivirus and spyware protection for Windows. I’ve also seen a single mention of a possible free program from Microsoft to centralize the other maintenance chores but it will be a while before we have information about that.

The free Microsoft software will be designed to be easy and unobtrusive; one of its important goals is to provide protection for unsophisticated computer users in third world and developing countries. Perhaps it will be sufficient for almost everyone.

In particular, it may be well suited for Vista computers. Vista is far better than Windows XP at many things, so much so that OneCare’s maintenance routines are only mildly helpful.

  • Vista has a simple utility to defrag the hard drive that runs automatically once a week. You don’t have to worry about it any more.
  • Vista’s built-in backup program is almost identical to OneCare’s backup – setting it up once with an external hard drive is enough to have your important files backed up regularly.
  • Vista requires only a couple of mouse clicks to get updates automatically for Office as well as Vista (go to Control PanelSystem and MaintenanceWindows Update and look for “Get updates for more programs.” If you use OneCare, it’s already set up.) The update system then works smoothly and quietly. Well, as quietly as possible, given that it feels like new updates are released every six or seven hours.
  • Vista’s built-in firewall is virtually identical to OneCare’s firewall protection.

So for Vista in particular, there’s really only a need for antivirus and spyware protection. More stuff is nice but many of the features of the big Internet suites are unnecessary fluff for almost everyone.

What are we going to do? I have some ideas. More to come in the next couple of days.

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