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My PC is slow/I think I have a virus

This is undoubtably what people come to me about the most. First of all, there are two big problems on PCs these days: Spyware/adware and viruses. People seem to confuse the two, so here's my 2 minute explanation: A virus is something that infects your PC with the intent of causing harm. Adware/spyware, on the other hand, is often installed (sometimes inadvertantly) by the user. Free programs such as file-sharing software, screensavers and smiley programs often slip in adware and spyware. These programs will usually track what you do on-line and report this information back to the company that wrote the program.

The distinction between spyware and viruses is important, because anti-virus software won't remove it.

How can I remove spyware or adware?

There are two main programs for Windows 98/ME, 2000 and XP that I tend to use: Spybot and Ad-Aware SE. Both find spyware, I install both as they find different things.

Microsoft recently aquired an anti-spyware company. They have released a beta of their new product: Microsoft AntiSpyware. I haven't tried it yet, but have heard great things about it. Like a good anti-virus program, it has active scanning. This means that it will prevent your PC from becoming infected with spyware. Unfortunately, MS AntiSpyware only works on Windows 2000 and XP.

In all cases, the above software is free for personal use. Microsoft's product is still in beta, they haven't announced pricing, so it may or may not be free after the beta period.

Please note that both Spybot and Ad-Aware need to be updated before use, as new definitions are available daily.

How can I remove a virus?

While spyware is a nuisance, viruses can be downright vicious. Viruses often delete or modify your files, they can cause constant crashes, you name it. Luckily, all is not lost. Two excellent and free anti-virus programs exist: Avast and ClamWin.

Avast offers real-time active protection. This means that viruses are stopped as they come in. Really, this is an absolute must. Avast is free for personal use but requires annual registration. I've installed it for a few people now, none have complained. Personally, I find that it slows the PC down noticeably, but it's still better than actually having to deal with a virus-laden PC.

ClamWin doesn't offer real-time protection, but it is a good way to remove viruses from a PC that is already infected. Many viruses knock out popular anti-virus programs like McAffee and Symantec Anti-Virus. When this happens, ClamWin really shines.

I'm tired of this, how can I avoid these problems in the first place?

I'm very glad you asked.