Antivirus software is the worst culprit in PC slowdowns. I am not alone in this belief. I don’t suggest going without (not completely) but it’s certainly possible to save lots of money, eliminate subscriptions, eliminate most of the overhead, and still practice (relatively) safe computing while running Windows.
Use Clamwin, the Windows version of ClamAV, and don’t engage in risky behavior (more on that later).Clamwin is free, GPL software, meaning you never have to pay for or renew it. It lacks a realtime scanner, which is the main resource hog for PCs. This may leave you vulnerable to infections, but think about where the majority of infections come from: E-mail, downloads, and drive-by installations. Clamwin comes with hooks into Outlook to scan e-mail attachments for you, and Clamglue is a plugin for Firefox that automatically scans all downloaded files. Of course you’re using Firefox, right? Using a non-Internet Explorer browser is the most effective way to prevent drive-by installations. I don’t use IE on my personal PCs for anything other than running Windows update.
Realtime protection made lots of sense when the main distribution point for viruses was infected floppies, but those days are long gone. This approach protects you against modern viruses without making your multi-gigahertz computer run like a Pentium-75.
I do suggest periodically scanning your system, something that even antivirus packages with realtime protection do. It makes you wonder how much confidence they have in that resource-hogging realtime protection, doesn’t it? Weekly scans are usually adequate; daily scans are better if you suspect some users of your computer engage in risky behavior.
Risky computer behavior
The last virus that ever hit any computer I was using was LoveLetter, which was way back in May 2000. The only reason I got that one was because I had a client who got infected and she just happened to have me in her address book. I don’t know the last time I got a virus before that.
It’s not because I’m lucky, it’s because I’m careful. There are lots of things I don’t do with my computers.
I stay off filesharing networks. Not everything on your favorite MP3-sharing site is what it claims to be, and there are people who believe that if you’re downloading music without paying them for it, they are entirely justified in doing anything they want to you, such as infecting you with a computer virus.
I don’t open e-mail attachments from strangers, or unexpected e-mail attachments from people I know. For that matter, if I don’t recognize the sender of an e-mail message, I probably won’t open it at all, attachment or no attachment.
I don’t run Internet Explorer if I can possibly avoid it. Internet Explorer’s tight integration into the operating system makes it far too easy for people to run software on your computer if you so much as visit a web page. Google tries to identify web pages that might be trying to do this, but a safer option is to use a different web browser that doesn’t understand ActiveX and doesn’t have ties into your underlying operating system.
I don’t install a lot of software downloaded from the Internet. A good rule is not to install any “free” software whatsoever unless it’s licensed under the GNU GPL or another similar open-source license. If you don’t know what that means, learn. Open source means the computer code behind the program is freely available and outside programmers can examine it. If a program distributed that way does anything malicious, someone’s going to figure it out really fast. If I’m going to download and install something that isn’t open source, I only do so when somebody I trust (be it a trusted colleague, a magazine columnist, etc.) recommends it.
I don’t rely on software firewalls. I have a separate cable/DSL router that acts as a firewall and sits between my computers and the Internet. So when the random virus comes around looking for a computer to infect, my firewall doesn’t even speak their language (it doesn’t run Windows and doesn’t have an Intel or AMD processor inside), so the potential infection just bounces right off.
Use a web-based e-mail service instead of a program like Outlook or Outlook Express if you can. If you use something like Yahoo Mail or Hotmail, that company’s servers scan your incoming and outgoing e-mail for viruses, so if someone sends a virus to your Yahoo account, you won’t get it. Does your ISP scan your e-mail for you? If you don’t know, you probably should consider getting your e-mail from someone else. Your antivirus should catch it, of course, but it never hurts to have someone else looking out for you too.
If you avoid these practices, you can join me in throwing out your commercial, for-pay antivirus software and reclaim a lot of computer performance too.