Trend Micro should come with a warning label that reads, “Caution: May be hazardous to your system’s boot time, overall performance, and system security. Use at your own risk.”
Instead, Trend Micro promises “the most comprehensive, easy-to-use protection for your personal data,” which just isn’t true. We have so many complaints its tough to decide where to begin, so let’s start with system performance.
Trend Micro added more than half a minute to our test bed’s boot time—long enough for some PC components to become obsolete. It also turned in the lowest PCMark score, although there were other products with scores nearly as bad.
When McAfee told us it completely re-engineered its security suite from top to bottom, we agreed to include it in this roundup knowing full well we had probably been duped like the guy who drives off the used-car lot without a warranty. We were wrong.
To our eyes, this is a completely revamped McAfee. MIS 2010 rolls off the lot with a much-improved UI over previous versions, and manages to balance ease of use with a high level of customization. For those who care to do so, McAfee makes it easy to dig deeper into each of the main menu’s modules, but you’ll never feel lost or overwhelmed.
Underneath the hood sits a more performance-oriented engine than what you would expect from a McAfee product. Where last year’s version felt like a dilapidated Pinto, the 2010 model has all the makings of a sporty sedan. To reduce the time it takes to scan a system, McAfee caches files and puts together a white list of files it can safely skip. Depending on how clogged your hard drive is, McAfee claims this can result in up to eight-times-faster scans (we saw a 50 percent improvement).
Our last experience with Avast! left us utterly annoyed, and for good reason. It was slow, resource-heavy, and seemed to suffer from an identity crisis, with a quirky user interface that looked more like a media player than an AV scanner.
That was the free version we looked at, and this year, we put Avast!’s full-blown security suite under the microscope. A close inspection reveals that some of our previous complaints remain, but there have also been a handful of welcome improvements.
For starters, Avast! sports brand-new digs, and it’s never looked better. Gone is the goofy media-player façade, replaced by a sleek UI that’s easy to navigate. All the controls are clearly labeled, so you won’t spend time fumbling around looking for things like the IM shield or firewall.
Someone over at Microsoft must watch a lot of hockey, because it’s the only way to explain the company’s recent hat trick. First there was Bing, the much-improved “decision” engine that replaced Live Search. Then Windows 7 launched, atoning for Vista. Now we have Microsoft Security Essentials, one of the latest entries into the field of AV, and another winning product from Microsoft.
Essentials scored points with us right off the bat with its supersonic 10-second install time. Even after downloading the latest update, we still hadn’t invested more than a minute or so of our time. And while Vista, Internet Explorer, and other Microsoft software made it easy at times to rag on Redmond for poor resource management, there would be none of that with Essentials, which disappeared quietly into the background.
When it came time to test Essentials, we checked our expectations at the door but were nevertheless pleasantly surprised. Essentials sailed through our synthetic spyware and virus testing without so much as flinching and fared equally well at thwarting our attempts to inflict damage with genuine payloads.
Ask any penny-pinching power user what he thinks about non-free security suites, and he’ll tell you it’s a fool’s solution, plain and simple. After all, what’s the point of paying for AV software when programs like AntiVir offer the same protection sans a price tag?
A valid question, so we set out to answer it. We combed through the data available from two well-known independent testing labs—Virus Bulletin and AV-Comparatives—and in both cases, we found that AntiVir historically performs well, boasting high detection rates. So far, so good.
Even better, AntiVir added a bit of basic spyware protection to this year’s version, addressing one of our primary complaints about AntiVir in 2009. Repeating some of the same tests we used last year, this year’s AntiVir did a much better job protecting IE from rogue code and prevented a few other spyware shenanigans, such as altering our host file.
Like Norton, ESET Smart Security walked away with a Kick Ass award in last year’s roundup, so we were eager to see how the two security suites would compare when pitted against each other in our second annual AV battle royal.
Through the first few rounds of testing, it was near impossible to declare a winner. Both apps remained light on their feet by barely sipping system resources before the two began trading blows. ESET won a round by adding six fewer seconds than Norton did to our system boot time (+14 seconds versus +20 seconds, respectively), but Norton’s a more polished fighter. What do we mean?
ESET lacks a few features found in Norton, including identity protection and parental controls. And while ESET managed to scan our test bed in a little less than eight minutes, which is half the time it took Norton during its first run, ESET doesn’t skip over trusted files to reduce subsequent sweeps, so it’s not nearly as fast in the long run.
We took some heat after awarding last year’s version of Norton Internet Security our coveted Kick Ass award. Some of you were baffled at how Norton, a notorious resource hog and semi-effective scanner, could turn things around in such dramatic fashion. Others questioned our geek cred, while a few of you even accused us of being on the take—ouch. But the truth is, Symantec deserved every accolade it received. Could this be the dawn of a new AV dynasty in the Norton camp?
We’re not yet ready to anoint Norton the savior of security software, and we’ll tell you why in a moment. First, let’s focus on what NIS 2010 does right. This year’s update continues NIS’s reborn legacy as a lean and fast scanner. We remain particularly impressed with Norton Insight, which dramatically reduces system scans. The first time NIS sweeps through your system, it examines every file. Each time thereafter, the scanner skips files that have been validated by Symantec and deemed trustworthy. The result? After an initial scan time of 16 minutes, 18 seconds, NIS then scurried through our data in just four minutes, 47 seconds, finishing long before our coffee break did.
Canon’s Digital Photo Professional (DPP) ships with every Canon DSLR. It’s a simple, straightforward editing tool that pretty much supports just the basics: adjusting color temperature, batch conversions to other file formats, and simple noise reduction. It lacks the sophistication of its competitors, but since it comes free with every Canon DSLR, it’s tough to be too harsh.
The main interface is simple and uncluttered—arguably too uncluttered, as DDP hides much of its functionality under the menus. Want to crop? Pull down the tool menu and launch the trimming tool. Need spot repairs to remove dust specks? Fire up the stamp tool. Once in a tool, you can’t do anything else until you finish, then close the tool.
The main photographic touch-up capabilities are available when you begin editing an image. You can easily adjust white balance, brightness, contrast saturation, and tone curves in a tabbed panel alongside the image being edited. It’s easy to pop up a window that compares the original to the edited image, so you don’t have to always eyeball the changes from memory.
Quick, what’s the top reason people put off PC upgrades? It’s the hassle of moving all those files, applications, and gigabytes of detritus built up on a PC over the years.
That’s a hassle that Laplink says it can solve with PC Mover. According to the product claims, by hooking up two PCs, you can use the application to move all your documents, as well as applications!
Yeah, if you’re as skeptical as we are, you don’t believe it, either. Something that promises to make machine-to-machine migration that easy must be a joke, right? The results, however, put our doubts to rest.
To run PC Mover, you simply install the client on the two machines involved in the move. PC Mover also supports in-place upgrades using a single hard drive by accessing the files stored during the upgrade in the Windows.old file.
Every fall, you should set the clock back an hour, change the battery in the smoke alarm, and determine whether it’s worth paying for the annual update to Photoshop Elements.
This year, Adobe hits the lucky number eight with the popular photo management app and finally adds the Holy Grail of photo organization tools: face recognition technology. Face recognition software is a boon to those of us who like to push the shutter button but aren’t organized enough to tag the photos with anything useful. With face recognition, the promise is that you won’t have to search through gigabytes of photos anymore, you’ll just ask Elements 8.0 to find all the pictures of Susannah taken in 2009. Elements 8.0 combines the face recognition technology with its smart tagging, so you could also tell it to find all pictures of Susannah that are in group shots that are in focus. Again, the feature goes a long way toward taming our vast gigabytes of digital images.