I have seen anti-virus programs in action.
I have seen them scrutinize outgoing, plain-text e-mails, locking up PCs as they do so.
I have seen them pop up endless error messages for any program that dares wander outside of port 80.
I have seen my work desktop slow to a crawl, stopping for at least two minutes each day as the anti-virus program self-updates. At random times. At random frequency.
But in my life I have never seen an anti-virus program do one thing: catch a virus.
Certainly there are viruses out there. I’ve personally encountered machines that have been hopelessly overrun with malicious software. But I can’t say how the viruses got there. And I couldn’t say what anti-virus software should have or would have done to stop them.
What I find most offensive is that anti-virus software goes out of its way to make its presence known. McAfee’s shield. Norton’s lemon-yellow background. Of course they’re working; they never stop telling you how hard they work. Maybe they’re right.
Still, anti-virus software has slowed down our computers for decades. This lost time adds up. And the sluggish application start times lead to a very real loss of sensation on the desktop.
Use a contemporary computer without anti-virus for a while and you’ll notice the difference. Less leaden. Less oppressive. The Internet feels better without protection.
I’m sure those hit by viruses would have a different perspective. Attacks on our computers are very real. But should we really have to cripple ourselves so much?
My biggest pet peeve at the moment is the self-promotion of McAfee: Total Protection, recently installed at my office. In this upgrade, the McAfee shield at the splash screen has been changed to a bogus, clip-art office setting, featuring the prominent smile of one of the most frightening women I have ever seen.
I dread turning on my computer each morning. I leave the monitor off during startup, hoping I won’t encounter a woman who looks like Frank from Donnie Darko. From the instant McAfee begins its anti-viral duties, it makes my day wildly unpleasant. Going without anti-virus software is probably bad corporate policy. Scaring the employees? Acceptable loss.