I was listening to Episode 277 of The Talk Show in which John Gruber was discussing virus scanners on Apple Macs with John Moltz. The discussion turned briefly to the state of virus scanners on Windows, and how invasive these commercial scanners were compared to Windows Defender provided by Microsoft.

Hearing this discussion brought memories of my experience with virus scanners back in the days of Windows XP and earlier. There was no Microsoft Defender back then so we had to have a license for one of the commercial scanners that were sold to home users at the time, such as Norton AntiVirus. Given how insecure Windows was back then, it was one of the first things we had to put on a fresh install of Windows. And these things certainly slowed Windows down. But we recognised that it was necessary and after a couple of weeks, we eventually got use to it.

However, after setting up a new install, there was this brief period of time when we got to experience Windows without a virus scanner. And the difference in the user experience was significant. The boot processed was fast, the UI snappy, and the applications quick to launch. In fact it was so good, it felt strange and slightly uneasy, as the knowledge that there was no virus scanner protecting the system was evident. Only after the virus scanner was installed, with the resulting hit in performance, did it fell safe to use Windows again. It was not until I listened to this episode that I realised how perverted this feeling is.

I cannot imagine how it must feel for those Microsoft developers who worked hard on providing a user experience that was responsive only to see it slowed down on almost every machine by a virus scanner. I’m sure they knew that, due to the prevalence of malware for Windows back then, it was necessary. Still, I could not imagine that they would have been thrilled about it.