i'm glad to see someone talking so passionately on the subject Scott - i suppose when i use language like 'definitive', 'minimal' and 'greatest' i deserve a bit of a slap around the face to bring me back to reality.
i'm sure you'll understand that i was only really interested in solutions to common systems used today. so things like win xp and 2k - just what your average user has at home (with a powerful enough machine to run current software).
i just wanted a least fuss solution - something i can recommend or install on a typical non techie users pc and then leave them to it. hopefully with the knowledge that the next time i visit them it won't simply be to fix their computer.
regards to anyone more clued up, well, they don't really need a 'definitive' answer as they will have discoverd their own preferences through experience or reliable information from elsewhere. a few opinions shouldn't go unwelcomed though, so as to cut through the fashions and unfound loyalties to a particular program that we can sometimes fall prey to.
the joy of being a wiser pc user is that you do have the freedom to play around with different security software, safe with the knowledge that pretty much whatever you end up using will do a sufficient job for your everyday use.
on a personal level, i'm not in the least bit worried about the security of my own machine. i have a firewal, anti-virus scanner and still haven't updated to service pack 2. big wow, i know.
maybe my original post should have been more along the lines of asking the question of what would be the best 'security practise'. this might lead to a more interesting and conclusive reply. (or am i just moving the goal posts?)
the method of backing up your hard drive (and doing it regularly) still seems the best solution to me. keeping a track of what each backup contains; what programs were installed and in what state. maintaining this kind of habit will then help in those rare occasions when even the most knowledgable user messes up his ultra secure system.
programs like 'goback' appeal more to me than any typical kind of security software but i still wouldn't use it because of the strain on the system it appeared to have when i tried it (i might have been imagining that though).
i admit whole heartedly prevention of something going wrong with your machine whether it be infection or whatever is all in hope and can never be 100% fool proof. the ultimate prevention lies with the ability of the user so i guess i'm onto a loser when i ask what's the best security software to use when aimed at your average mom or dad.
i'd like to see the 'system restore' feature of win xp beefed up a bit (or goback improved). something akin to full system backup but on a realtime and regular basis with plenty of snapshots. i know acronis true image, et al, are almost there but as your documents aren't intelligently stored so that they don't get wiped out in the restore process it's not the perfect solution (yet).
to sum up, prevention would be very nice but a quick cure suits me if it's not too painful.