Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Antivirus programs

First off, let me say that any antivirus program, even one that is 6 months out of date, is better than none at all. However, it just doesn't make sense to let your antivirus program go out of date by more than a couple of weeks at most. The reason for this is the large number of new viruses that continue to be released and the rapidity with which they spread. All of PC Medic's PCs are connected to the internet on a daily basis and we ensure that the antivirus programs that we have installed never go out of date. The result? We have never had a viral infection on any of our machines. Now this is not just down to the antivirus programs we run - though they play an important part - it's also due to the fact that we are pretty cautious about how we interact with the Internet in general and e-mail in particular.

So what antivirus products are we running on our own PCs. On two of the machines we run Norton Internet Security (NIS) and on another two it's EZAntivirus. We used to run Norton on all our machines but we are phasing it out as licenses expire for a number of reasons. First up is that, in our opinion, it's sloppily written code. Time and again we get ccApp (a Norton executable) errors on shut down, with no documented solution on Symantec's website. We have problems with LiveUpdate not working and problems with corrupt installations spontaneously appearing. If you have ever tried to reinstall Norton you'll find that you have to remove every trace of previous installations before you can do so - a visit to Add/Remove programs in the Control Panel will not suffice. This is a program that leaves a trail of detritus all over your registry after you uninstall it, something a program that has been around as long as this should not do. We recently had a customer complain to us that all the icons in their control panel were gone after uninstalling Norton Antivirus and, sure enough, there was an errant registry entry that hadn't been cleaned up after the uninstall that caused the problem. Sometimes the program will just refuse to uninstall and it is then necessary to download another program from Symantec to handle failed unistallations!! Sloppy.

The second reason that NIS has fallen out of favour is that it's a resource hog. We have had to uninstall the program from three customers' machines in recent months because NIS slowed their machines down to unusable levels, even though they exceeded Symantec's minimum requirements. Once NIS was removed and replaced by a lighter weight AV product it was business as usual.

Finally, the price. NIS currently sells for €70.00 (download from Symantec) and, as such, does not represent good value for money, again in our opinion. While the package includes Norton AntiVirus, Norton Personal Firewall, Norton Privacy Control, Norton AntiSpam, & Norton Parental Control, most people buy it because they need an antivirus program and either do not need or know how to properly configure the other components in the package.

Norton Internet Security is a good package if you have a PC with at least 512MB of RAM, if you know how to configure all the components in the package and if you can put up with the sloppiness in the code mentioned above. It is top notch at detecting and repairing viral infections and their release schedule for new virus definitions is among the best in the industry. However, consider EZAntirus as an alternative. It's an effective antivirus solution, that uses minimal system resources and you can get a year's free trial here (or buy a 2-year subscription for just $19.95). It's not perfect either, but it updates itself on schedule, uninstalls cleanly and offers the level of protection against viruses that most home users need.

In summary, most home users do not need industrial strength antivirus/internet security suite products such as those offered by Norton and McAfee, though these are not intrinsically bad products. There are a number of good low-cost or, in some cases, free alternatives that will meet the home users needs just as well, such as EZAntivirus, AVG, F-Prot and Panda. The bottom line is to get an antivirus product that meets - not exceeds - your needs, keep it updated and, most importantly, make sure your behaviour in relation to how you interact with the Internet puts you in a low risk category of picking up a virus or other badware element.

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