Tighter budgets are forcing many IT departments to look for new ways to cut costs and/or limit purchases. One easy way to minimize expenses is to use low-cost software alternatives that fulfill essential needs. A key area that smaller companies can investigate is antivirus software. Every desktop needs protection from viruses and worms; however, small businesses, remote office networks, and home users who connect remotely can all get by on low-cost antivirus software in most cases.

Turning to cheaper antivirus solutions can help you secure your networks while significantly reducing software costs. A number of companies below the big hitters like Symantec, Network Associates, and SonicWALL offer solid products to help you protect your assets on limited budgets. Consider the following products as possible alternatives to the mainstream antivirus programs:

  • Panda Antivirus Titanium
  • PC-cillin 2002
  • EZ Antivirus
  • Protector Plus 2000
  • F-Prot Antivirus
  • Quick Heal X-Gen
  • VCatch
  • AVG Antivirus 6.0
  • AVAST32

These programs offer features comparable to those of high-end products but at significantly lower prices, so they may be good solutions for small businesses or remote offices. IT departments may also want to recommend one of these programs to employees dialing into the office (using a modem or VPN) from their home PC.

Panda Antivirus Titanium
Panda Antivirus comes in both Titanium and Platinum flavors. You can download free evaluation copies of each program, but to obtain updates, you have to register the product. That’s not much of a problem, considering the Titanium package costs only $24.95 and the Platinum is a mere $5 more. That’s if you purchase via download. Purchasing the boxed Platinum product costs $59.

Not only is it cheap, but it’s also a high-quality product. Panda’s Platinum product has received good reviews, and in a July 2001 review,� PCWorld rated it the top antivirus product. If you’re looking for a low-cost antivirus solution, Panda Antivirus may be the best option available at its price.

Panda also offers small-business solutions with a variety of site-license and subscription duration options. For more information, visit Panda Software’s Web site.

PC-cillin 2002
Once upon a time, Trend Micro’s PC-cillin was free. Now you can download a 30-day trial for free, but it costs $30 to purchase the product or $19.95 if you’re upgrading from a previous version. PC-cillin delivers solid antivirus protection and costs less than most packages. It’s a viable alternative to the high-end products.

For small-business or home users, PC-cillin is a good fit. Of course, Trend Micro offers a wide array of antivirus products to fit just about any company’s needs. For product details, visit Trend Micro’s Web site.

EZ Antivirus
Another good low-cost option is eTrust’s EZ Antivirus. In terms of bang for the buck, EZ Antivirus is a decent option. You can download a free 30-day trial of the program and purchase the full program for $19.95. The annual fee for updates is $9.95, which pushes the total cost up a bit, especially when you consider that many companies offer free updates. But this fee is still moderate.

Reviews of EZ Antivirus have generally been positive. CNET gave EZ Antivirus a rating of 6 out of 10. Of the users downloading EZ Antivirus from CNET’s Download.com, 79 percent gave it a thumbs-up.

EZ Antivirus is a viable alternative to the more expensive programs. Granted, more expensive programs might provide more comprehensive protection, but EZ Antivirus is a rising contender that could very well climb into the upper ranks.

Protector Plus
ProlandSoftware’s Protector Plus looks like another complete, low-cost solution. Protector Plus offers a full set of virus-scanning features and includes an automatic updater to keep virus definitions up to date and reliable. Users downloading the free 30-day trial have given Protector Plus high marks as a viable antivirus alternative.

Protector Plus is available for download from the Proland Web site. The purchase price is $29.95.

Frisk Software’s F-Prot has also been well received by users and promises reliable antivirus performance. You can download a 30-day trial of the program, and if you decide to buy, the purchase price is $25.

F-Prot is unusual in that it has versions available for all Windows platforms as well as for Linux and even DOS.

Quick Heal X-Gen
Don’t overlook Cat Computer Services’ Quick Heal X-Gen. Once a freeware product, Quick Heal is still a good option at $30.

Cat Computer Services offers free upgrades for Quick Heal, and the program can automatically update its virus definition files, relieving you of the hassle of constantly checking for new releases. Quick Heal is definitely worth a look if you’re considering low-cost options and want a product that requires little maintenance.

Freeware options
A number of viable antivirus solutions are available as freeware. Don’t be fooled by the fact that they don’t cost anything—most of these programs offer solid protection.

A new antivirus solution is CommonSearch’sVCatch, a free virus-scanning utility. According to the VCatch Web page, the utility can intercept viruses arriving via e-mail or IM programs such as ICQ. VCatch also has an automatic update feature that downloads new virus definitions to your computer as they are discovered.

You can purchase the Premium Edition of VCatch for $14.95, which offers enhanced features, including integration with Windows Explorer, and gives you access to more support options, including priority virus definition updates. The free version of VCatch is supported by advertising, so you’ll likely be pestered with ads when using it, but the ads are absent from the Premium Edition.

VCatchis too new for any comprehensive reviews to have been written, but users downloading it from CNET have generally given it high marks. Some complained about the free version installing adware, so you might want to opt for the ad-free Premium Edition.

AVG Antivirus
Grisoft’sAVG Antivirus is available for download from the company’s Web site. AVG Antivirus promises free updates via an automatic update feature and, interestingly, is free only to users in the United States. All other users get the program on a 30-day free trial.

There have been few reviews of AVG at this point, but one site offering comparisons of the various antivirus solutions available is HackFix. Its chart shows that AVG was able to detect most of the known threats for which they tested.

ALWIL Software’s AVAST32, which also performed well in HackFix tests, is worth checking out. ALWIL offers monthly updates of virus definitions, so anything AVAST32 missed in HackFix’s testing could very well be covered in an update. The home edition is free, but other editions are available for download only as trial versions.

AVAST32 is available in several versions, including workstation, network, and exchange server editions. The program is available for download from the ALWIL Web site.

Lower-cost alternatives
Generally speaking, you’ll get the surest protection from the mainstream products by vendors such as Symantec and McAfee. But many of the low-cost and even freeware products offer solid protection at significant savings. The companies offering the low-cost options also often provide free updates, so you don’t have the additional expense of yearly subscription fees.