I get asked this question a lot, and it's a question I love to be asked. I have spent the last ten years trying out just about every security software product available. I have come to the conclusion that you get what you pay for, and not all software is created equal.
Most people have heard of Norton and McAfee. I have found their basic antivirus products to be effective. That said, they take up a lot of resources, slow computers down, and in my experience, are far better at detection than removal. The "Internet Security" and "SystemWorks" products attempt to do many things at once, and end up not doing any of them very well.
Of course, I have tried the free antivirus products, because, well, they're free. AVG worked quite well, but became a constant nag when it began pushing users to upgrade to a paid version of the product. Avast works well enough most of the time, but isn't the most user-friendly, and when I changed to a different antivirus product, it found some infections that Avast did not.
I was a fan of BitDefender for a while, however their process in which to download the program itself was beyond frustrating. They eventually fixed it months later. They also released an update that caused Windows not to work until it was resolved. Symantec, McAfee had similar situations happen recently.
Computers worldwide were affected by the problematic updates, and none of the companies handled it very well publicity-wise. They released updates the following day, but downplayed the seriousness of the problem, which caused consumers to be very upset.
In my experience, the best antivirus on the market is ESET's NOD32 (www.eset.com). It's lightweight, easy to use, and for the most part, just sits there and works completely on its own. It doesn't nag you, and doesn't slow the computer down. It's not free, but you absolutely get what you pay for. It ranges between $45 and $60 depending on where you get it. Their Smart Security product is also excellent and includes a firewall (great if you're on the go and accessing public wireless networks).
Don't rely on an antivirus product or any security software to protect you 100%. At the end of the day, people must pay attention to what they click on, be it links on the internet, or in their email. We must also pay attention to the messages that nag us.
Read before you click, and ensure that if you are downloading something, it's directly from the company that created it, or a trusted partner website. If you click 'yes' to something you shouldn't, you're giving it permission to get on your system.
I want your feedback! If you have comments or questions about this column, or suggestions for future columns, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you're on Twitter, send a tweet to @kevinthenerd.