Computing - general &Nerd stuff (technology) 11 Jul 2007 03:42 pm

Travels with Vista – security suites

I know that not everybody believes in so-called Internet Security Suites. These collections of security products are designed to keep your net-connected PC free of nasties such as virii, spam, spyware, adware and the like. It is sometimes suggested that these products are, in fact, unnecessary bloatware, and that the operating system (particularly if it’s Windows Vista) can do just as good a job.

Personally, I prefer to run a security suite. I believe that applying the expertise of a specialist security company can help protect the PC from on-line threats. I’m happy to pay the subscription price if the product does a good job.

Sadly, my experience is that it’s really hard to find a Vista-compatible security suite that does do a good job. Here’s a quick summary of my experiences with some of the big names…

Microsoft Windows Live OneCare (WLOC)

I had WLOC on a free 90-day trial when I first switched to Vista and none of the big names had released a Vista-compatible suite.

WLOC is innocuous enough, and (at first) didn’t seem to slow things down. I didn’t suffer any security incursions – but I don’t recall receiving any alerts, either. I don’t use the backup features, as my system is automatically backed up each night to the Windows Home Server (I’m part of the beta trial program).

There’s no antispam function – so I’ve relied on the built in junk mail features of Outlook (which are pretty good, but not exceptional, and which don’t ‘learn’ when you tag a message as ‘spam’ or ‘not spam’).

I was happy to live with WLOC on my system until…

The killer came when, several weeks ago, one of WLOC’s modules went haywire (it’s called msmpeng.exe). It started consuming between 50% and 100% of available CPU resource, resulting in massive system slowdowns. This is a widely reported problem, and one for which Microsoft seems to offer no solution. I tried re-installing the software – but the problem remains.

WLOC has been banished from my system.

ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite (ZAISS)

CheckPoint (owner of the ZoneAlarm products) certainly took its time before releasing a Vista-compatible version of my (until recently) preferred security suite. (I have two Windows XP machines in the house that do run ZAISS.)

Frankly, ZAISS is a dog with fleas. As soon as I install it, my PC goes into meltdown. The suite consumes bulk CPU power, locks up applications and makes life miserable. It had to go – and fast.

Performance and stability issues notwithstanding, ZAISS for Vista lacks one key feature compared to the XP version: email virus scanning. And that’s a big, black mark.

Sorry ZAISS, you won’t be welcome back until you can behave yourself.

Norton Internet Security

Yes, I know I said I’d never have another Norton product on my PC – but I relented, at least for long enough to realise that the most annoying aspect of past versions of NIS has been retained in NIS2007: the AntiSpam toolbar won’t stay where you put it! Every time you open your email program, the AS toolbar has moved to its own row, taking up valuable screen space. You can easily move it back up to another row, but it just won’t stay there. Symantec acknowledges the problem but seems to have no plans to fix it.

This glitch was enough to see me return to my senses. Norton, be gone.

Trend Micro PC-Cillin Internet Security 2007

Yes, it’s a long and silly name. But it’s running on my PC at the moment.

Why? First, I have a free three-month trial (courtesy of a magazine CD). Second, it’s pretty light-weight. It’s not slowing things down and it seems very stable.

A disappointment: the AntiSpam toolbar won’t work on a Vista machine. That’s a real shame because AntiSpam is important to me. Yes, I can use (and am using) the in-built Outlook junk mail filtering – but it’s pretty rudimentary and doesn’t ‘learn’.

Summary

Nothing I’ve tried works to my total satisfaction. Trend Micro is on the PC today because it doesn’t cripple it. If they can get their AntiSpam toolbar working, I might even pay money when the trial ends.

A word on support forums

Microsoft (WLOC) and CheckPoint (ZAISS) both run on-line user forums. To me, these are a big selling feature. Many apparent faults can be fixed quickly with the help of other users. (Neither of the slowdowns I’ve experienced fit into this category.) Is it only geeky people that worry about the availability of a user forum when buying computer products?

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