Which anti-virus product to run? Windows only lets you run one per machine – or even have one installed at once – so it should be worthy of sageful consideration.

For some years, I’ve used McAfee, and it has served me pretty well despite the increasingly frequent and irritating pop-ups asking me to take advantage of some “special offer” or other and buy yet another one of the company’s many security software products.

A week ago I was quite happy with this complacent arrangement, but things have suddenly gone badly off track. One day, out of the blue, while browsing an apparently innocent music website, the software encountered what it described as a “PUP” or “potentially unwanted program”. In the process of quarantining this sneakware, it suddenly went into a deep freeze. Re-installation didn’t work. De-installation didn’t work. And it wouldn’t load properly either despite the McAfee online scan tool not reporting anything nasty as being present on the PC.

Half an hour of fiddling to see that the browser wasn’t somehow blocking the re-install process, and resisting the temptation to engage in DIY registry surgery, it was on to McAfee’s online and email help. Three days later I’d followed their ever more complex instructions and removed the working bits of McAfee’s software, but all to no avail – it still wouldn’t re-install properly. Eventually, they gave up on me and simply stopped replying to my polite emails.

Perhaps if I’d called their premium phone service at £1 ($1.70) per minute I might have got somewhere, but frankly McAfee isn’t that special. I was, in any case, left without any anti-malware protection of any kind because until McAfee was removed from the PC nothing else would be guaranteed to install and run properly.

I would count McAfee’s service as unimpressive, but I harbour no grudges. I know that anti-virus is not an absolute wall against invasion, merely a small software ditch. It can’t even guarantee to stop viruses because it is possible to encounter a piece of malware (most likely a Trojan) that is not yet detected by McAfee (or any other anti-virus program), because it is too new. Increasingly, there is a window of exposure between malware being released and it being discovered and included in anti-virus engines as a signature. It could be minutes, hours, days, weeks; nobody knows for sure.

Like all major anti-virus software companies, McAfee has spawned a whole stable of security programs, and tries to sell them to you at every turn. Anti-spam, anti-spyware, privacy, firewalling, and anti-virus, you name it and McAfee does it. This is the model PC users are stuck with. If you want more security then you buy more code.

They won’t be selling any more software to me. I will restore my PC to a point in the recent past, dump McAfee for good, and move on to another one of the many anti-virus products that are used by journalists who like to stick the word "security" on their job title. I already run a clutch of them on different PCs anyway, and have a gateway filter as well, but McAfee was supposed to be the one I personally chose and paid for out of sentimentality.

McAfee’s support was useless, its programming questionable (they couldn’t even properly remove their own program), and by refusing to de-install properly it actually stopped protecting me and became the single thing exposing my PC to security peril.

Still, I still feel fickle. What did I expect from a program philosophy I know to be flawed? The future of security cannot and should not lie with installing ever more expansive signature databases to cover malware. We are now at a point where malware is being developed faster than security companies can protect against it, or we’re getting mightily close to that point at least. They’ll deny it of course.

The anti-virus companies have grown fat selling people software. They have also grown hugely complacent.

Addendum: McAfee's technical support has just contacted me a week on to tell me some good news: they've escalated by issue to "tier 3". Too late.