The spyware problem that exists on the Internet today is worse now than it's ever been before, and there is no sign that it's going to let up any time soon. Recently, the New York Times had a story about "educated" people who were choosing to throw away their spyware infected PCs, rather than take out "software tweezers" to painstakingly remove all the spyware from their infected operating systems. This article not only described a potential ecological nightmare, but also showed the extreme and completely unnecessary actions that frustrated people are taking to deal with the spyware problem.
The popular and free Lavasoft AdAware and Spy-Bot Search and Destroy anti-spyware programs do a decent job of removing spyware after it has already been installed, but aren't much help in keeping spyware from getting onto a system in the first place. Unfortunately, many of the 'active' anti-spyware programs that promise to prevent spyware from infecting you cost too much money. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe you should pay money to get something in return. In this case, you are paying money to NOT get something (ie, spyware.) It's a highly unusual business model that could seemingly only exist on the Internet.
Some folks have taken to using alternative browsers, such as Firefox or Opera, which have their own security issues. Also, if enough people start using a particular browser, they will also eventually become targets for spyware. At best, using an alternate browser is a temporary , and often inconvenient fix, as many of these alternate browsers do not render a myriad of web pages correctly.
The good news is that there are free utilities that can offer you protection equal to or better than costly anti-spyware software.