Saturday, May 13, 2006

Update: AOL's Safety and Security Center and Microsoft's OneCare

Okay, here’s an update on my anti-virus quest.

Once upon a time I had McAfee’s VirusScan. It’s a nice system, and when AOL had their version available for free it was a pretty good deal. VirusScan normally runs $49.95 per year, and of course if you want to get the other "suite" programs you’d have to pay for a subscription price for those as well. Or you can get the hodgepodge of other programs and then be reminded from these "security suites" that you’re not getting "total protection".

Then AOL came out with their Safety and Security Center (SSC)… based, supposedly, on McAfee’s VirusScan program. You probably saw the commercials for it, right? The commercials that talk about how "easy" this program is and how "secure" it is. Well it’s not that "easy"… and my previous post on the matter sort of proved it. (By the way, check out the comments on it… you’ll see that I wasn’t the only person who had problems with it.)

When last I left my fellow tech-heads on this subject, I was waiting for the CD to arrive from AOL. Meanwhile, I was playing around with the beta version of Microsoft’s new OneCare system.

And it was during this waiting period that I noticed something about how OneCare worked compared to SSC.

Okay, for starters, I have a small network setup here. Pretty simple combination of wired and wireless connections between two computers (and sometimes three when needed). Now I noticed that when I had the SSC on my laptop, the laptop would lose connectivity anytime I tried to transfer files over from the main desktop. This might be understandable if we’re talking a wireless-only connection and the laptop was moving around. But the laptop has been stationary, three feet away from the wireless router, and even when I ran a Cat-5 line over it would lose its connection to the router. Now if you think the problem is with the firewall, you’d be right. Internet connection, no problem. File transfers in from the host computer, big problem. But even when I programmed it to accept the transfer of files, the connection would give out for both wired and wireless any time I tried to move files in.

So guess what happened when I uninstalled the SSC and went to OneCare? You guessed it! NO problems whatsoever transferring files from the host computer!

Now folks, I use both computers for audio recordings and I move plenty of files over on a weekly basis, so file transfer is important to me. I can’t afford to play games with this process just because the all-in-one security suite wants to get picky, so that’s one big minus for the SSC.

The other thing I noticed with OneCare compared to both the SSC and the old VirusScan program is how notifications come out. Both VirusScan and SSC have pop-up window notifications that you have to MANUALLY click to turn off. These can get really annoying, especially when they’re sending updates that you have to MANUALLY click to acknowledge. With VirusScan, if you don’t click to acknowledge the updates, the program won’t reactivate to protect you. Plus I would get a nice little notice from Microsoft’s Security Center that the anti-virus has been disabled. This annoyance was even more noticeable with the SSC because of the bug with the downloaded version that refused to recognize its own version number.

Memo to McAfee and AOL: pop-up windows that you have to manually click to close SUCK! Why do you think that pop-up blocking software was the big killer application a couple of years ago? We HATE these things! We HATE these annoyances, no matter if it’s an advertisement or an important message.

OneCare, on the other hand, does its own updates, and notifies you by message balloon. This is something that goes away after a while, not something that you have to MANUALLY click to close. And it certainly doesn’t hang up the system while waiting for you to do something. If OneCare needs to get your attention for something, the taskbar icon changes color. That’s another plus for OneCare.

So a little bit less than a month goes by and I FINALLY get the full disc from AOL. At the same time, I get the notices from Microsoft that the beta testing will come to an end soon, and that I could buy the full version at a nice discounted rate ($19.95) to cover three computers. (Mind you, that deal was only because I’ve been using the beta version. Everyone else has to pay the full price of $49.95.)

I wanted to see how the "fixed" SSC would work, but at the same time the downloaded version gave me a few headaches that I didn’t need to have, even without its design bug. Obviously free is better than paying $50 a year, which was why I ditched McAfee’s full version and went with AOL’s free version of the software in the first place.

Decision, decisions.

I ended up giving my SSC disc to a good friend who needed a security system and I purchased OneCare for my computers.

Don’t get me wrong… this friend of mine is a really good one, and I wouldn’t give her a program like that if I didn’t think it would work for her. She doesn’t have a network set up for her computers (at least not yet), and while she is getting to be pretty good with the tech, she’s still a newbie in certain areas. The SSC program is designed for someone like her.

Now I would HOPE that AOL gets off their asses and fixes the downloaded version of the SSC. My guess is that since we don’t see any of their commercials about the program right now, they don’t really have that bug worked out yet.

So here’s a look at both systems based on the information I’ve gathered:

America Online’s Safety and Security Center

  • All-In-One security system (anti-virus, anti-spyware, firewall, system check, anti-phishing, anti-scam)
  • Based on McAfee’s VirusScan system
  • FREE for AOL members
  • Can be programmed to run both a full scan and a mini-scan
  • Downloaded version has a bug – ordering the CD can take a month to deliver *
  • Has pop-up notification windows that require manual acknowledgement
  • Has a hard time working with networked computers *

(* - As of this Blog post. Subject to change.)

Microsoft’s Windows Live OneCare

  • All-In-One security system (anti-virus, anti-spyware, firewall, system check, system backup)
  • OneCare Firewall is based on Windows firewall provided in Service Pack 2
  • Anti-Spyware is provided by Microsoft’s Windows Defender program
  • Works with Microsoft Update to make sure all necessary updates are installed
  • $49.95 per year for up to three computers (sorry, the free Beta trial is over)
  • Can be purchased and downloaded online
  • Can be programmed to run an overall tune-up or run individual components manually
  • Uses message balloons and taskbar icon colors for notifications
  • Works well with networked computers

And while I’m at it, here’s a quick tip for anyone getting an all-in-one security system: any new firewall program you install will need a little "get to know you" time. There are a lot of programs that use the Internet for updates and information, especially your media players like Quicktime and Real Player, and for any chat programs you may use. Be patient when you get those inquiry boxes. Remember that your new firewall doesn’t yet know what is a safe program and what is malicious. You have to teach it. This is also a good way for you to know if you have a program doing something it’s not supposed to.

Oh, and just because either all-in-one system has an anti-spyware program, that doesn’t mean you should rely on just that one system. You can only have one anti-virus program running, but you can have several anti-spyware systems. That’s why I still recommend that you getting additional free anti-spyware programs like Spybot Search & Destroy and Ad-Aware and run those programs religiously. Remember, spyware creators are more deceptive than virus creators, and they have been known to write spyware programs that will avoid detection.

Okay, here are my recommendations…

If you’re an AOL member and you don’t have a multi-computer network to deal with, go ahead and ORDER THE CD for the Safety and Security Center. DO NOT deal with the download version… at least not right now. Bear in mind that you’re going to be waiting for a while for that CD to come in, so if you already have an anti-virus program to work with, stick with it until you get that CD.

For everyone else, plop down some coin and get Microsoft’s OneCare program. Yes, yes, I know, "evil empire" and all of that crap. Suck it up, or start looking for other all-in-one programs to play with. I’m just giving you the pros and cons of these two systems. You can always try your luck with Norton or McAfee if you have a mad-hate for the geeks in Redmond.