The Absolutely, Positively Best Way To Get Rid of Spyware
An Entertaining and Insightful Peek Into The Anti-Spyware Industry
So youve found this site (and most likely a few others) and after all the reading, you may still be left wondering what is the best anti-spyware program? What exactly should I be running on my computer to get it (and keep it) running like new?
After over 18 months of continuous testing of different anti-spyware programs, I feel compelled to deliver some bad news: There is no such thing as a perfect spyware remover. There is no magic bullet.
With that out of the way, heres the good news: You can get your computer running well again with just a modest amount of effort. Im going to show you how while I spare you of product pitches and other marketing BS. And maybe youll be modestly entertained along the way. Lets get started.
The Reality of the Anti-Spyware Industry
Before you make any decisions and buy any software, there are a couple of things you need to know.
First, there are different camps in the anti-spyware business. First, there are the people who write spyware programs (the bad guys). Then, of course, there are the people who write anti-spyware programs (the good guys).
Second, the good guys arent always so good. In the beginning of the spyware wars, there was just AdAware and Spybot, the two best programs at the time. Both of them were volunteer efforts led by people who took offense at the invasive software that spied on peoples surfing habits and slowed their computers down. But they were soon joined by other companies who saw the profit potential in this market. Some of these companies (like Webroot, Aluria, and PC Tools) produced great products and invested their profits in R&D. Other companies (who will remain unnamed) sold software that ran the range from doesnt work to actively lies about what you have installed so youll buy it. Sadly, there are dozens and dozens of these companies still operating (despite the FTC shutting some of them down). And some of them have really, really great marketing.
Third, the bad guys are getting smart. Really smart. Spyware is their livelihood, and they have every intent of making every dime they can from this business. They pay programmers to write sneakier software. They hire the best marketers to put a new face on their companies. And they hire the best lawyers to shut people (like me) who name names.
(Speaking of, Ive been on the receiving end of legal action more from the good guys than the bad guys. Ive learned that everyone will use every means at their disposal to prevent the truth from getting out, if it isnt in their best interest.)
Finally, and heres where it gets really tricky, you need to know that there is a lot of behind-closed-doors discussions between the good guys and the bad guys. Sometimes they actively work together. Sometimes they just conveniently look the other way. But believe me, the bottom line is that both camps have a lot to gain and a lot to lose.
What Does This Mean?
It means three things:
1. You may pay good money for a slick looking product that does nothing.
2. You have to be careful who you give your money to. You might not get it back.
3. You cant rely on a single program to protect your computer.
The first two should be obvious by now. But the third is worth some more discussion.
Why You Cant Rely on a Single Spyware Remover
Ive run hundreds of tests and one thing Ive learned: no program removes 100% of spyware.
A simple solution would be to run multiple anti-spyware programs. But realistically, you cant run too many. First, you may end up paying for those programs, which is kind of a waste. Second, the cure might leave you worse off than the illness.
Why? Well, one reason why spyware is so bad is because it slows down your PC. All of those programs each consume a little bit of memory, a little bit of CPU, a little bit of bandwidth. Running spyware programs does exactly the same thing. The difference is that an anti-spyware program will consume far more CPU, bandwidth, and memory than just about any spyware invader. The technical term for this is resource contention. You can actually slow your computer down to a crawl by running just a few spyware removers at once.
Ive found the magic number is two. Two good programs are all you need. I recommend you pick one commercial product, and one free product.
Why Choose a Commercial Product?
For-profit companies generally do a much better job of writing spyware removal programs. There are many reasons (chief among them being that for-profit companies can afford to hire armies of spyware researchers) but some people will argue with me until theyre blue in the face, so I will just leave it as an empirical statement: after running hundreds of tests, commercial products do a lot better than free ones.
Another indisputable point in favor of commercial companies however, is that they can provide you with real customer support. Not just a forum manned with rude (and sometimes clueless) developers. A real phone # with a real person on the other end. Some of us really like having that option available.
The Down Side of Commercial Products
For-profit companies are legally obligated to maximize shareholder return (ie: make money). This can lead to some interesting conflicts of interest. I have first-hand knowledge that back room agreements take place all the time between the spyware makers and the spyware removers. The problem is that these agreements are difficult to prove and not usually discussed. For example, if a software program youre running suddenly stops detecting a certain spyware program, will you really notice? Probably not. And it could end up putting thousands of dollars a month in the pockets of the vendor. Ethics aside, it does happen and its probably happening at ___(insert favorite anti-spyware company name here) ___.
Why Choose a Non-Commercial Product
For the very opposite reason, you might find yourself in the freeware camp. Now I know you arent one of those who naively claim that corporate software companies are all evil and that the free software products are hands-down better than commercial versions. But those people are all over the net, and from the hours they must spend posting, you might think that there are more of them than there really are. But in reality, theres a few bad apples out there in the freeware camp, just like there are in the commercial camp.
So heres the real deal: Non-commercial companies are generally free from the commercial ties to spyware companies.
"Generally" is the operative word here. Case in point, earlier this year (2005) it was announced that Aluria (an anti-spyware company) and WhenU (a spyware company) had forged a partnership and that Aluria would no longer remove WhenU. This was cited as the worst sort of evil by the fundamentalist freeware camp. Yet when it later came out that Lavasoft (makers of AdAware, the symbol of all that is good and holy among the anti-corporate netheads) had come to a similar agreement, there wasnt quite the same uproar.
Despite this, I more or less agree that its not a bad idea to run an freeware anti-spyware program on your computer.
What Stinks About Non-Commercial Software
Two things detract from non-commercial products:
1. They just dont work as well companies that give their software away for free depend on volunteer work, which generally isnt available in the same quantity as paid development.
2. Poor Support If you run into a problem, youre on your own. Support costs money.
So What Should I Do Already?
If youve read this far, then my recommendations will make a lot of sense to you:
First, use two spyware removers. Using just one will probably leave you with gaps in coverage, while running three provides little extra protection and will just slow your computer down.
Second, make one of those programs a commercial product. Not only will you get better (although not perfect) protection, youll get customer support in case anything goes wrong. Good products are sold by Aluria, PC Tools, and Webroot click here for our latest testing results.
Third, make one of those programs a non-commercial product. Youll have some reassurance that commercial ties arent compromising your protection and perhaps the satisfaction of putting a smile on a developers face somewhere. There are three primary options: Microsoft Antispyware, Lavasoft AdAware, and Spybot S&D. Hands down, you should use Microsoft Antispyware its a much better product that the other two. And even though Microsoft isnt a non-profit, the program is free and its very good.
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