Free antivirus programs rise in popularity, new survey shows

Microsoft share of antivirus market grows, says Opswat survey

By John E. Dunn, IDG News Service |  Security, antivirus, free software

Free antivirus programs such as Microsoft's Security Essentials (MSE) have now supplanted more complex paid software as the antimalware defense of choice for millions of consumers, figures from certification company OPSWAT have suggested.

In its quarterly analysis of the security software running on 43,000 computers around the world between March and May 2011, OPSWAT found that well-known brands such as McAfee, Symantec and Trend Micro are continuing to be pushed down the popularity tables by mostly European rivals marketing on the basis of either a free-to-use or "freemium" (free with paid upgrades available) model.

Globally, the two most commonly encountered brands were Czech companies Avast Software and AVG, tied with being detected on 12.3% of systems each, ahead of Avira of Germany on 12.2%, Microsoft on 11.2%, and ESET Software, also of Germany, on just under 10%. Traditional security brand leaders, Symantec, McAfee and Trend Micro were found on only 8.77%, 4.5% and 2.15% of systems respectively.

In terms of individual products, the most popular program was Microsoft's Security Essentials with 10. 6% market share, ahead of Avira's Antivir Personal Free with 10.2%, Avast Free Antivirus with 8.66%, and AVG Antivirus Free with 7.92%.

The most common subscription antivirus programs were Eset Software's Nod32 Antivirus with 7.25%, Kaspersky Lab's Internet security with 4.31% and Norton Antivirus with 4.3%.

The rise of Microsoft Security Essentials has been particularly striking in North America, where according to OPSWAT it is now found on just over 15.7% of PCs, ahead of AVG on 10.4% and Avast on 7%. Even here, however, the European upstarts have gained traction, with ESET Software, Avira, and AVG easily making into the top 10 of most common antivirus applications.

But what is making the free-to-use and freemium programs so popular all of a sudden? After all, free antivirus suites have been around for years but have tended to be seen as the poor relations to paid software.

One answer is simply the influence of Microsoft Security Essentials, a totally free program launched by Microsoft in 2009 after fitful and generally failed attempts by the company to sell paid antivirus protection going back to the days of Windows XP.

The software has been given generally good reviews, despite a recent independent test that put it near the bottom in terms of its ability to detect zero-day software exploits. Many users might see it as a zero-cost way of getting perfectly adequate protection from a brand that is guaranteed to stick around.

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