Venturing online without an antivirus tool is like swimming through sewage with your mouth open, but protection from malicious software doesn't have to cost a penny. Avira Free Antivirus is fast, thorough and easy to use. It isn't brimming with additional features (although it does offer some extra online protection – more on that later), but you'd be hard-pressed to find better virus protection.
After a little preparation, Avira's installer will minimise to an icon in your system tray so you can continue working, then produce an alert once it's finished. It's an unobtrusive approach, and one we appreciate. The program will also perform an initial scan of your system in the background once it's finished installing.
Click the System Tray icon to access the Avira Free Antivirus control panel. At first, only one option will be activated: Free Antivirus. Most of the other functions (System Speedup, Phantom VPN etc) are available as trials, after which you'll have to purchase a subscription, but Browser Safety is included in the free package.
This tool is designed to protect you from phishing attacks, and displays icons beside search results to let you know whether each site link is legitimate. It also includes a function that displays prices from Avira's 'partner vendors', but Avira is very open about this, and provides a simple toggle switch to deactivate it, if you like.
Returning to the System Tray control panel and clicking 'Free Antivirus' will display a simple menu, with options for toggling real-time protection, performing a manual scan, checking for updates and activating the firewall.
Avira used to offer its own firewall, but as Microsoft poured resources into developing and improving Windows' offering, Avira decided it was better off focusing on antivirus alone.
Malicious files will be quarantined (moved into a sandboxed area isolated from the rest of your system). From here, you can either delete the file or restore it if you're sure that it's a false positive. This is rare, but you can verify whether the file is indeed harmful using Avira's Virus Lab.
Any PC connected to a network requires a solid antivirus program, and Avira Free Antivirus is one of the best - free or otherwise.