There remains a legion of XP users who regard Redmond’s nearly decade-old OS as the holy grail of operating systems. And before Windows 7 emerged, we would have agreed, but what XP loyalists seem to forget is just how susceptible to Internet threats their beloved OS was in the early days. Sure, it came with a built-in firewall, but before the second Service Pack, it wasn’t turned on by default, and it was never able to monitor outbound traffic.
Enter Comodo, a company that built a following among enthusiasts for its excellent firewall. A lot has changed since then (including much better firewall integration in Windows), and it would be a mistake to peg Comodo as a one-trick pony. Comodo’s full-fledged security suite is more of an anti-malware stallion, and if overall scan speed were the Kentucky Derby, this would be the thoroughbred to bet on.
Panda shredded every threat we threw at it with the ferocity of, well, anything but a panda bear. Spyware, Trojans, potentially unwanted programs (PUPs)—you name it, Panda pounced on it like a hungry dog that had been thrown a meaty bone.
This particular Panda can also be a little bit needy. By default, Panda alerts you to every activity under the sun, even benign attempts by your home network to connect to your PC. Over time, the pop-ups settle down considerably, and for the ones of a more serious nature—like those alerting you to a real threat or virus attack—Panda makes it easy to adjust both the transparency and longevity of the pop-ups. Still, we wish Panda would take more initiative and not bother us with so many alerts.
Ever been blindsided by what you thought was love at first sight, but turned out to be just another pretty face? Eventually you find yourself at a crossroads having to decide whether to break things off, or stick around for the fast ride and ignore the flaws.
Such is the position BitDefender puts you in, and you’ll ultimately have to make the same decision. Right off the bat we encountered a couple red flags of things to come, including a somewhat lengthy install time requiring a restart, and mandatory registration in order to activate the license.
Once we got past the initial awkwardness, BitDefender proceeded to sweep us off our feet by tailoring itself to our needs. BitDefender’s configuration wizard asks you to select from four different layouts based on what type of user you are, including Typical, Parent, Gamer, or Custom. Should you later change your mind, you can rerun the wizard with a click of the mouse.
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.
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.
You know Adobe's portable document format: PDF. It's everywhere, from downloadable documentation for a motherboard you need to tweak to press releases from the assemblyman from Lower Someplace, PDFs rule. Why? It's not hard to understand:
PDF files are supported by computers and mobile devices, including smartphones; comparable formats such as Microsoft's XPS don't enjoy nearly as wide a level of support
PDF files are cross-platform, enabling you to create a PDF on a PC and read it on any other device with PDF support
PDF documents can be optimized for web display, eBook readers, PC printing, and high-resolution professional printing
Add up these reasons, and it's easy to see why PDF make sense if you need to distribute a document that can be read everywhere.
Although Adobe sets the standards for PDF files with its Acrobat PDF creation and Reader PDF display software, Adobe isn't the only game in town when it comes to PDF creation. In this article, you'll discover if your system is already ready to spit out a PDF on demand, how to add PDF output to your system, and how to track down free tools that enable you to perform some PDF editing.
There's an untold bounty of awesome available on the Internet, and it's all free, free, FREE! From applications and games to movie tickets and mattresses, we'll show you what's safe and steer you away from the unsavory.
As inhabitants of the Internet, we’ve become so inured to the hyperbolic advertising and questionable offers that we miss the incredible values that are ripe for the taking. If you know where to look, you can find all sorts of awesome stuff available for the low, low cost of $0. Whether you’re looking for a great image management app, free AAA games, or the proverbial free lunch, we can tell you where to find it. But wait, there’s more! We’ll also show you three things that seem free, but really aren’t.