When I bought my copy of Win XP Pro x64 a year after it had been released, Norton didn't have a product to support me, which forced my switch to Avast in the first place.
I currently run Avast on all my personal computers. It supports Windows XP, Windows XP Pro x64, Vista 32 and 64-bit, and now has Win7 support. It even has a Linux clinet (no real-time scan though), so I can check files I've downloaded.
I'm never switching back to Norton or McAfee again. As I type this on my work's PC, McAfee is consuming 150MB of memory out of my 1GB, and I'm not sure what its doing with that memory either.
I downloaded MSE and installed it on my newly replaced laptop just yesterday. So far I'm happy, but I'll withhold judgment until I see how it fares against viruses. I'm also a current user of AVG on my desktop, and I've dealt with the costly names like Sata- er, Norton in the past. Hands down, I've found the free antivirus to be more effective, as well as friendlier and easier to use. You won't catch me recommending Norton or McAfee.
I'd say yes yes it can be as good as paid software. Never ever had a problem that Avast couldn't catch. made the switch from AVG after I couldn't get the virus update one day and I've never looked back. Avast is great and does a wonderful job
Speaking from a business stand point, both McAfee and Symantec SUCK. They don't auto detect anything and they dont invent and push the envelope on anything. NOD32 is always top notch, SuperAntiSpyware is even detecting viruses that Symantec can't and update my programs and defs religiously.
Plus even BitDefenders online scanner detects what other scanners cant. So far NOD32, BitDefender, SuperAntiSpyware and Avira have been the best I've seen. Kind of funny because I was recently at a security conference where McAfee was there and they were toating how much they are changing and blah blah blah and the main programmer from NOD32 was there and he could blow through the water with the knowledge he had compared to what any big corporate solution is.
I think Microsoft has the resources to provide effective coverage for Windows. They need to approach it as "value added" to the OS instead of just "freeware." Have the OS ask to download updates on a regular basis. It means a little more investment in time and resources from MS but I think it could be very effective for most consumers. Apple keeps their users happy with a similar feature.
Well, I had AVG installed on my parents PC for over 2 months. That's the last time I will install a free antivirus software to a PC that is handled by IT "novices". I bought myself a Kaspersky 2010 license, and guess what: AVG scan reports no infection, Kaspersky found and neutralized over 10 different trojans that were seriously slowing down the OS. That PC finally breathes again.
On the other hand we have the Norton solution at my company. That is seriously the worst piece of antivirus sofware ever invented. (I would elaborate, but I guess most of you already agree with me ).
So, my conclusion is somewhere in between...you can have good and bad free software just as you can have good and bad paid ones.
AVG is by far, the best anti virus software i have used. After using bit defender, Norton(full security), McAfee, and Kasperkey, i have found nothing but head aches, and even discovered that Norton software uses root kits just like Trojan viruses. Trying to get a paid version of Norton off your computer without a complete reinstall is almost impossible (Norton 2005 that is). I will never go back to the terrible paid for service they provide, even if avg started to charge for its service, i would pay for it, its not a matter of cost entirely its a matter of how your product runs, and unfortunately the current paid for providers can't keep up to the freeware versions.
Avira and Malwarebytes are the best ones right now. Nothing else comes close besides norton SEP. Everything else is somewhat useless. Even kaspersky isn't top dog any more.
Plus I still believe that Kaspersky pays Russian hackers to create virii and spread it on the internet. Just to keep that in mind, since it is also a Russian company that apparantly popped up out of nowhere 4 years ago.