Antivirus vendors cancel free software for home users

Expect to start paying for protection against viruses and worms. Computer Associates International (CA) and Aladdin Knowledge Systems last week both discontinued free antivirus products for home PC users.

CA had been offering InoculateIT Personal Edition free of charge since 1999. The US vendor now pushes its my-eTrust.com, a new brand with software at a cost. On its part, Aladdin Knowledge Systems now expects users to pay a license fee for its eSafe Desktop, which had been free since February 17 last year.

The offerings from CA and Aladdin Knowledge Systems included software upgrades, virus definition updates and technical support via e-mail, at no charge. In addition Aladdin also included a personal firewall, protecting the PC against hacker attacks.

"Keeping the software up-to-date has proven to be costly. It turns out we have to ask some money for it," said a CA spokesman in Nieuwegein, Netherlands. Current users of CA's software -- millions, according to the spokesman -- will still be able to download virus definition updates as long as the software is installed on their current personal computer, CA said.

Meanwhile, Aladdin Knowledge Systems said consumers didn't keep to their part of the bargain and it had trouble explaining the free software offering to its corporate customers.

"Consumers flooded the customer support telephone lines, while they were only supposed to ask questions via e-mail. Business customers were confused, because they still had to pay, albeit for a different version of the software," said Peter van Ruiten, managing director for Aladdin, the Dutch subsidiary of Aladdin Knowledge Systems.

Esafe Desktop users, about 1 million worldwide, will "for now" be allowed to download updates, according to Van Ruiten. He couldn't give a time frame for how long the updates would be available.

Customers visiting CA's antivirus site (http://antivirus.cai.com/) are now directed to visit my-eTrust.com. The company's online store offers a range of security products sold on a subscription basis and is targeted at home and small business users. A package protecting against viruses, eTrust Antivirus, costs $US19.95 for the first year and $US9.95 for subsequent years.

CA's product is cheaper than some of the competition. McAfee.com offers virus protection for $US24.95 a year. Symantec offers Norton AntiVirus 2001 version 7.0 for $US39.95, which includes one year of virus definition updates.

Whether CA's offer will attract customers is doubtful, said Rob Hailstone, a software analyst with market research firm IDC.

"I don't think CA has done enough to exploit the free service to attract eyeballs. People still associate other names with the provision of antivirus software. I don't think CA will be making a lot of money out of it," said Hailstone.

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Joris Evers

PC World

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