My name is Dave and I have not run antivirus for 245 days.

And boy does my computer run like greased light. Forget the "-ning" part: light beams are way speedier than thunderbolts.

Truth be told, I do run anti-virus and anti-spyware scans periodically; I just don't run always-on real-time antivirus scanners. Disposing of those does wonders to Windows' boot-up time.

Am I living dangerously? I certainly used to preach the antivirus gospel to my Practical Computer Fluency students. I still strongly advise every protection possible for computers used by kids, music and video traders, online chatters, and all of those friends and relatives of mine enamoured of cheesy greeting card services and chain letters.

But for myself, I simply don't believe that antivirus software works most of the time. I prefer to rely on my own -- admittedly dubious -- common sense, virtual machines for suspicious downloads, and a tight firewall. Oh, and most of my speculative web browsing is done from an Ubuntu GNU/Linux laptop. Pretty much virus-immune, that.

I'm also not fond of the makers of antivirus tools. Before going cold turkey, I had bought subscriptions from McAfee, Norton, and Trend Micro over the years. Aside from the constant interruptive harangue of updates, the up-selling renewal processes, and the overreaching litigiousness of at least one of the companies, the profit margins of these corporations seemed more closely linked to fear of infection than effective technology.

The antivirus scanner that I do run every now and again, ClamWin, is free software: free as in freedom, free as in beer, and free as in no corporate bugaboos lousing up the joint. It ain't pretty, and it ain't fast -- 16 hours to scan 93GB in 390,596 files -- but it seems as able as any of the others: no (known) viruses to report.

I'm not going to advise anyone to follow my approach. Remember, computers are my career, so constant monitoring and maintenance is just part of the job. I trade those hours of effort for a few dozen seconds at each startup. Not everyone is able or willing to make that bargain.

Update, April 16

Antivirus maker McAfee has recently taken to blaming open source software for the spread of botnets. I guess their logic is that as open source software grows in popularity, so too do the botnets, and therefore more units of McAfee anti-whatever will be sold.

Archived Comments

  1. tt on 20080414.Monday:
    It's going to get harder to avoid the security performance tax, at least on Windows. This from Coding Horror last year: "That's why Windows Vista goes out of its way to radically improve security... Enhanced security is a good thing, but it's never free. In fact, Vista's new security features will slow your PC down more than almost any other kind of software you can install."
  2. Dave on 20080414.Monday:
    Not only do they slow the computer, but apparently Microsoft Vista's security features are purposefully intended to annoy. The number one thing Microsoft could do to make me feel more secure about my computer would be to show me a much more detailed list of the programs that are currently running, where they came from, and what they're doing. Staring at umpteen instances of svchost.exe makes me very nervous, even with Process Explorer at the ready.