Fate has recently seen me use three antivirus programs in quick succession.
My personal theory is that any major security software, if kept up-to-date, is going to stop any virus or malware outbreak, since all the companies share fixes within hours.
So: my focus is on useability, stability and speed.
When my new laptop arrived the other week, it was without our company's usual solution - the corporate edition of Symantec's Norton AntiVirus, which has always hummed away quite happily in the background. It never gave me any grief, and I never got infected. My Symantec problems were always related to sidelining the corporate edition and installing a suite - most recently Norton 360. That's when I started to get plagued by CCapp.exe crashes at shut down. Symantec said a fix had been pushed out in updates, and the problem became less frequent, but early this year it was still bugging me.
Anyhow, after a day's naked surfing, I installed a trial version of AVG 8 on my new laptop. As I've previously written, AVG - available in both premium and free versions - has always rated strongly in PC World group tests because of its low overhead. It's leaner use of memory means it slows your system by around 2%, compared to up to 10% for other antivirus programmes.
However, I did find that AVG's control panel was very slow to load. Most security programs are sluggish in this department, but Symantec's was a couple of beats faster than AVG, and Mirosoft's Windows Live OneCare (which I'll get to shortly) is actually pretty snappy.
I made constant trips to AVG's control panel to disengage its firewall, and was disappointed there only seemed to be the option (without a reinstall) to temporarily disable it, not switch it off.
The naked surfer
Why would I want to do that? Because I've never been able to get a straight answer from any security company - or any specialist security commentator or writer - about whether the firmware-updated firewall built into my DSL modem/router provides enough protection, or whether it's necessary to install a software firewall on my PC as well. Some say the router-level firewall is enough, and my personal experience - of no major malware or virus infections in years - says it is, too. Certainly, it's faster.
Like Symantec's Norton and others, AVG's Firewall throws up gobbledygook questions: Should I block the "spooling subsystem?" And do I want Bonjour Service to access the interent? It sounds like something I might have picked up on a porn site, but I have no idea, and I work for a publisher of computer magazines (a quick search reveals it's associated with an iTunes install; why can't any AV program know that, and put it to me in more plain English fashion?). What do the great unwashed make of it?
And so I uninstalled AVG and saddled up Microsoft's antivirus and security suite, Windows Live OneCare Version 2.0.
Reaction to Microsoft entering this market has been so hostile that it almost gave me a naughty thrill to install this program.
Certainly, I thought I could reasonably expect OneCare to be a stong defender. As has been noted before on this blog, Microsoft has cherry-picked developer talent from all the major antivirus software makers to create the still relatively new OneCare.
And I also figured that performance has got to be pretty good (I'm running it with XP) since the OneCare team have got to have the inside running in terms of working well with Windows. And it has been quick, and its central control console is very user-friendly (though all the majors are these days).
I also prefer OneCare's Firewall queries. While their language is no more accessible than rivals, you at least get a nice summary dialog box that provides more info than a program's name or file name (above), which is helpful for your DIY research.
Like Symantec's Norton 360, you also get tune-up and back-up options - not part of AVG - which is sensible since the ultimate defence against any virus threat is to keep safe copies of your files. The only feasible auto backup option is to an external hard drive, however. Symantec hasn't bothered enabling Norton 360's online backup option for NZ at all. Microsoft has, but only for a photo-only backup service that costs $NZ90 a year (for 10GB) on top of buying OneCare ($99) and on top of your annual virus update subscription (after the first 12 months included in the purchase price).
That's expensive, and with broadband plans mostly capped around 1GB, and speed still crappy in most areas, making OneCare's 10GB photo backup allotment rather academic - and at $90 it's not that attractive compared to the freebie - if manual - 2GB+ being offered by Google and others.
Another glitch: OneCare crashed soon after I installed it. The error message didn't say if I needed to restart to regain full protection, but an endless stream of repeated error messages meant I didn't have any choice but to reboot (AVG remains the only crash-free program I've used). I'll keep you posted about whether this remains a live - or should I say Live - issue.
Politically, OneCare has a hill to climb. Many see a fine line between Windows updates plugging security holes (which we naturally expect free), and paid OneCare updates. Microsoft, for its part, would no doubt like to incorporate OneCare into Windows, gratis, but given its antitrust history with the US Dept of Justice and the EU, it won't even try.
There are other, more minor issues too. Windows Live OneCare is an awkward name. With its plastic case festooned with "One" and "1" in various places, I actually had to make a phone call to ascertain whether I'd been sent an incremental upgrade of OneCare Version 1, or the new Version 2.0. It turned out to be V.2.0, with all those "One" and "1"'s standing for the One in OneCare.
And there was humour to be had around the office as various journos struggled - like three-year-olds doing a psych test on Child of Our Time - to simply open OneCare's plastic case, which features a clip on the side but actually opens in a gull-wing hinge action. Anyhow, I'll keep you posted how things go.
[UPDATE] Just got a call from a Symantec product manager who pointed out that since launch there has been 2GB of free online backup for Norton 360 customers, with 5GB or 10GB chunks of capacity available at extra cost. Blu-ray support has also been added for those who want to back-up to an external drive rather than online. He said he'd been unable to replicate my CCapp.exe error ... anyhow, 360 Version 2.0 is on its way shortly, so I'll let you know how that goes.