Avast wins this year's showdown, thanks to its strong protection against known and unknown threats. It also proved among the easiest antivirus programs to operate, and is actually as effective as many paid antivirus software suites.
The top four (Avast, Microsoft Security Essentials, Avira, and AVG, in that order) by our final ratings detailed below are also the top four in terms of usage share. That's good news, because it shows that users are becoming more knowledgeable about the threats they can encounter online, and the best way of dealing with them.
Looking forward, it's quite possible that Windows 8 may render non-Microsoft free antivirus programs obsolete. The promised improved version of MSE and Internet Explorer's SmartScreen built into the future version of Windows will provide a comprehensive and adaptive shield against online threats, according to Microsoft.
We doubt that however, because no matter how well-designed a protection system is, there will always be vulnerabilities that can be exploited. A key factor that keeps this reality in check is the fact that the antivirus software market is as competitive as ever.