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With the near-demise of this beast, I've gone out and purchased a new laptop - tons of memory, massive storage, i5, and Windows-7. I've fired it up to get through the initial registration and setup process, but my quite computer-savvy youngest son tells me that I should NOT need Norton, nor any other virus protection at all. When I challenged him on this, he explained that XP and W-7 are based on different types of OS code, and W-7 doesn't have security holes the was that XP does. He also stated that having Norton running will only serve to slow everything down. I agree with him on that last bit, but really - W-7 negates the need for virus protection? I find that to be implausible.
I'm anxious to get the new computer online, but I'm hesitant.
That said, I still don't recommend dropping the cash on something like Norton. The problem these days is there aren't any really great antivirus products on the market. Viruses are getting smarter and more adaptive and the antivirus programs all fall short in a number of disappointing ways.
What I run on my PCs is Microsoft Security Essentials. It's honestly just as good as anything else out there, and it's free, so that's a bonus.
Your best security is to just be careful online. Stick to sites you know are trustworthy and don't click on something just because it says it's free (everything "free" comes with a price, and online that usually means some kind of adware or spyware is going to be riding along with the download) and don't open e-mail attachments from people you don't know.
A common scam on the Internet now is popup ads that are crafted to look like an antivirus program. These ads flash up on your screen and tell you you're infected and offer to clean your computer if you click a button. However, if you click the button you will trigger the download of an actual virus (ironic and clever, eh?). I don't say this to make anyone paranoid, but just be aware of that scam and be very discerning any time you see a warning on your computer. Don't just click on something because it looks important or urgent. Take a moment to try and figure out if it's a legitimate warning or possibly a fake before you proceed. If you're ever in doubt, don't click anything, just turn the computer off. You might lose unsaved changes in any open documents, but that's a small price to pay to be certain that your computer doesn't become infected.
If you're being careful online, then honestly your son is right. For the most part, the best way to avoid infection these days is not by having the strongest antivirus program, but just by being discerning and not clicking or downloading anything that you're not sure is 100% safe. But good security tools, especially if they're free, can't hurt.