Recently, we offered a list of inexpensive antivirus solutions that can help you secure your client systems while cutting costs. All of the products we featured had low sticker prices, but as one TechRepublic member pointed out, rarely do you pay only the price of the software when it comes to antivirus programs.

It’s not just the program itself you’re purchasing, after all. Every program’s database must be updated on a regular basis to handle the latest virus threats. Although some companies offer free rebates to their customers, most charge a subscription fee. And when you purchase the software, you often pay up front to subscribe to updates for a specified period of time.

Throw program upgrades into the mix, and you’ve got a long string of fees and charges that add up over time.

It pays to look beyond the price tag when selecting an antivirus program, especially if you’re working under tight budget constraints and need to cut costs wherever you can. Comparing the charges for some of the major antivirus programs on the market reveals some interesting facts about the actual cost of the software.

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See our article on low-cost antivirus solutions for links and more detailed information about the products listed here.

Looking beyond the sticker price
The up-front costs of antivirus programs can vary considerably, and as member Kmwade noted, you have to do a little calculating to determine what they really cost over time.

“Check the fine print first,” Kmwade warned. “You may be surprised at the cost of the ‘low cost’ programs.”

So what are you really paying?

Trend Micro’s PC-cillin costs $39.95 for home users. This entitles you to free updates for one year. At the end of that one-year period, you’re forced to upgrade. The current upgrade price is $19.95. This means essentially that you pay an introductory price of $39.95 and then a yearly renewal fee of $19.95. After two years, you’ve paid nearly $60 for the product.

Of course, you’re getting a little more than virus update renewal for that $19.95. You’re also getting an upgraded product that may offer improved functionality, although you can’t know that for sure until after you’ve purchased it.

Panda Software’s Antivirus Platinum is $29.95 for home users if you choose to download it vs. purchasing the boxed version, which, oddly, costs nearly double at $59. This fee entitles you to free updates and technical support for one year. I couldn’t find any information about discounted upgrades.

Symantec charges a hefty $49.95 for Norton AntiVirus 2002, and the purchase price includes one year of free updates. You can either download it or receive the product by mail. Unlike Panda, Norton does not charge a different price based on delivery method. If you already own Norton AntiVirus, you can upgrade to 2002 for $29.95. The fee for subscribing to yearly updates is $9.95.

McAfee offers a similar pricing plan for VirusScan. Purchase the product via download for $49.95 or buy the physical package for $59.90. If you’re upgrading, the price is $39.95. McAfee doesn’t offer any information about subscription services relating to this product on the Web site, but its new VirusScan Online service costs $29.95 per year.

Protector Plus’s $29.95 cost entitles you to free updates for one year. Proland doesn’t mention anything on its Web site about updates after one year, but upgrading from a previous product to the current release is free.

Frisk’s F-Prot is a flat $25 per year and downloadable, while eTrust’s EZ Antivirus is $19.95 up front with an annual renewal fee of $9.95. Cat Computer’s QuickHeal is $30, and upgrades and updates are free.

As you can see, the big commercial products really rake it in via upgrade/update fees. Once you move away from the mainstream, however, the fees begin to drop.

Totally free solutions
Free solutions are available for the home user, and you may want to recommend one to your employees who dial in or connect via VPN. AVG is free to download and offers free updates. Many readers responding to our original article said they are pleased with AVG. Vcatch is free—with one catch: advertising. If you don’t mind being nagged by ads, you can use this product without paying a dime. If you can’t stomach the ads, the purchase price is $14.95.

Member Stuart Hayes, principal of Stuart Hayes ConSZultingH, pointed out that Trend Micro also offers a free product. HouseCall is an online virus scanner that requires only your e-mail address for registration. Mind you, this is a manual scan, so you’re not getting the automatic scanning that most products offer.

IT director Oded Szpiro noted that the DOS version of F-Prot is also free to home users. Member John D. Brown swears by F-Prot. Brown says that Frisk has the best licensing policy and that the product has performed well in tests.

The bottom line
For the most part, the commercial heavyweights, including AntiVirus 2002 and VirusScan, are the top performers in terms of detecting and removing threats. So if you want sure protection, you’ll likely have to pay for it. But many of the low-cost and even no-cost products offer solid protection, so don’t overlook them just because they’re cheap or free.

Regardless of where you decide to turn for your client-side antivirus solution, it’s a good idea to read the fine print so you know exactly what you’re paying for and how much you’re paying for it. In the long run, doing some comparison shopping can save you a lot of money.