Though we've already covered free security software in the Keep It Clean For Free feature, it's nonetheless worth going over again because security is always an important concern when using a PC. Antivirus is the first phrase on most peoples' lips, so it seems fitting to start here.
There are two main contenders for the free antivirus program, AVG Anti-Virus and Avast!. Both offer a comprehensive set of features, including real-time scanning and email scanning as well. Updates to software and antivirus databases are also free, with both automatically updating during use.
Of the two, AVG is the more popular though in truth there is very little to separate them. Having used both on and off for many years, it's clear to us that they are both very capable. Avast! has the more attractive interface and unlike AVG it doesn't produce a pop-up box whenever it updates the database, however you must renew your free registration every year whereas AVG has no such requirement.
Though Windows does include a firewall, it isn't the most flexible or configurable of beasts and there are loads of options out there for those that require a little more than what's on offer. Two of the best are ZoneAlarm and Comodo, both of which we featured previously. Both are relatively easy to use, though Comodo has the cleaner interface as well as providing a little more for the advanced user.
Unfortunately, Comodo isn't currently compatible with Vista. Thus, it's worth taking a look at another option, Ashampoo Firewall. It's not at all resource intensive, but is effective nonetheless and it won't cost you a penny.
Spyware is always a concern too and though there are many free applications out there, Spybot - Search & Destroy is arguably the best of all thanks to it being a lean and super fast program that's nonetheless packed full of features. Another option, is the ever popular Ad-Aware though unlike Spybot - S&D the free offering is a cut down version of the full package.