So, do netbooks need special anti-virus programs or not? We're still not sure.

First, niche-filler Kaspersky Lab announced a special ‘netbooked' version of its suite, and this week it was the turn of the equally ambitious (and also European) Panda Security with its Panda Antivirus for Netbooks.

Kaspersky was unable to offer much of an explanation on how its product differed from the same suite on a conventional laptop or PC beyond hints that the software dialog boxes had been optimised to be viewed on a small screen.

Panda was more forthcoming, telling us that it used a ‘lightweight' local signature file, which we take to mean that it doesn't need regular and processor-locking downloads. Instead, the program relies on ‘cloud-based collective intelligence', which we take to mean that it only distributes signatures on the basis of what other users are experiencing.

Perhaps we're asking the wrong question: why do laptops, not netbooks, need ‘special' programs if that means tying up the machine for up to a minute every time it is started? Couldn't they benefit from the same overhead-minimising versions now being marketed to netbook users?

What might be going on here is that anti-virus vendors are facing up to the fact that the core security functions they have been selling for 25 years are probably going to be given away free in future, indeed they already have in some cases. Microsoft'sMorro is a step up, however, no matter how hard rivals try to trash the company's patchy record for security software.

In the age of the botnet, security is now too important to be left to users' discretion, but that means reinventing AV in new forms, and with new features such as anti-keylogging virtual keyboards and built-in patching tools for common vulnerabilities.

Some netbooks probably do need an optimised program, many newer ones probably don't. But the industry needs a new model based on more than flogging old technology in new boxes.