Install-and-Forget Antivirus Programs
At a Glance
You can't ignore the threat of PC viruses, but the latest antivirus programs let you devote less time and energy to defending against them.
Although they don't offer breakthrough features,
Once in place, all three programs perform more tasks automatically, such as fetching updates and disabling viruses. The downside: Fewer controls remain for users who like to fiddle with settings.
I tested beta versions of the Norton and McAfee products and a shipping copy of Panda Titanium (final versions of all three products should be available by the time you read this), zeroing in on interface and automation improvements. We won't know how successfully each product nails viruses until we test shipping versions sometime in 2003.
Norton AntiVirus 2003 takes the lead, sporting the same lean and logical interface that its predecessor did. Installation was simple, and Symantec has just about every feature turned on by default.
Foremost among NAV's improvements: It can automatically remove worms and Trojan horses, along with viruses. NAV also stops worms from transmitting themselves from your PC via e-mail or their own Net connection protocol, and it blocks malicious files downloaded via AOL Instant Messenger, MSN Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger.
Panda Antivirus Titanium follows closely in NAV's footsteps, with most of its features enabled during installation (the exceptions include heuristics and compressed-file scanning). The product also fetches new virus definitions from Panda's site whenever your PC connects to the Net.
Titanium does have some annoying quirks, though. For one thing, to return to a previous screen you might have to click OK, Back, or New Scan, depending on where you are. Furthermore, Panda provides only e-mail tech support, and the annual renewal fee is $20 (Norton is $15; McAfee, $10).
At the tail end is McAfee's VirusScan Home Edition version 7. On the positive side, you get not only virus protection, but also a firewall that includes a visual trace route program. In addition, VirusScan watches for malicious outbound programs, blocks malicious scripts, and quashes viruses in the background.
Unfortunately, VirusScan continues to be hamstrung by a clumsy browserlike interface. The result is a bit of a navigational mess that leads to situations such as trying to back out of a page only to find the back arrow grayed out.
McAfee doesn't enable many of VirusScan's settings by default, either. As a result, to use features such as heuristics, Outlook e-mail scanning, and emergency disk creation, you must first turn them on.
Despite their various shortcomings and foibles, all three programs improve on their forebears, with Norton AntiVirus 2003 the overall leader in interface accessibility, automation, and new features.