Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Tech: When it comes to spyware removal, TANSTAAFL

During my undergraduate years in computer engineering, I was exposed to the modern youthful programmer élan that snides at everything closed-source. In this world, people like Linus Torvalds and Bram Cohen are the model - open source software, open protocols. You make money on the back end through service and support, not up-front with licensing to end-users.

There's always a suspicion, though, that what you get for free isn't as good as what you pay for. Sometimes the suspicion is unfounded (I'll be reviewing OpenOffice next week to provide a counterexample to this particular post, for instance), but sometimes TANSTAAFL - "there ain't no such thing as a free lunch." When my sister's laptop became plagued by a piece of malware masquerading as a legit spyware removal program, I found that most of the free antivirus and anti-malware programs were worth what you paid for them - nothing.

Fed up with the whole thing, I bought and installed Norton Antivirus, which is available nearly everywhere software is sold for the comparatively exorbitant price of $40. But it did the job. After the very first scan it had removed the exact malware without me having to know a single thing about computers. No tearing out registry entries, or messing with the startup configuration, or squinting at which processes were active. Best of all, it had a pretty small memory footprint, smaller than some of its free-to-download counterparts.

For the most part, it's probably more efficient not to visit questionable websites or download strange software. Nearly every computer programmer realizes the danger of executable code, which is why their workstations and laptops tend to run smoothly, antivirus or no. If you're a non-programmer like my sister, though, you might as well fork over the cash for something that works.


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