McAfee VirusScan Home 7, Norton AntiVirus 2003, Panda Antivirus Titanium software

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, McAfee VirusScan Home Edition 7, Norton AntiVirus 2003, and Panda Antivirus Titanium are closer than their predecessors to being “install and forget” tools. Once in place, all three programs perform a number of 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 (final versions should be available by the time you read this) and a shipping copy of Panda Titanium, zeroing in on interface and automation improvements.

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 (See here for screenshot).

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 browser-like 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 greyed 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. Norton AntiVirus 2003 is the overall leader in interface accessibility, automation, and new features.

In brief: McAfee VirusScan Home Edition 7
(Beta software, not rated)
Includes a firewall and features background virus killing, but the interface still needs work.
Price: $65.95
Phone: 1800 644 646
URL: www.networkassociates.com.au

Norton AntiVirus 2003
(Beta software, not rated)
Turn it on, walk away — NAV does just about everything, and well.
Price: $99.95
Phone: (02) 8879 1000
URL: www.symantec.com.au

Panda Antivirus Titanium
Fairly lean, clean, and automatic, but fails to take top honours.
Price: $59.95
My Virus Wall
Phone: (07) 3831 4850
URL: http://www.myviruswall.com
Acme Technologies
Phone: (07) 3269 1658
URL: www.ausaz.com

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Robert Luhn

PC World
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