Selecting the right AntiVirus

October 13, 2006 at 2:06 pm 1 comment

There are a so many antivirus suites out there nowadays that it is getting harder and harder to select the right option. And of course, there is suddenly a spate of freeware (for personal use) options available online, so what works and how well?

In our organisation, we had been using Symantec’s Corporate Edition AntiVirus suite for a number of years. On one hand, it provided us with an Antivirus Administration console that allowed us to perform basic antivirus tasks from a central location. It was also one of those really well known industry standards. On the other hand, any user of any of Symantec’s computer protection software will be able to tell you how resource hungry this software is. The average workstation slows down noticeably the moment you install the software. And forever after you wish that you had done a little more research when you selected your antivirus software.

So, come renewal time, we did a huge hunt around the internet to try out a few alternatives. Our first option was to try out F-Secure. Our motivation for this was that this software also had a management console, and the server and console system could be run under Linux (which is always a huge plus in my books). Sadly, although the client was significantly better than Symantec’s offering, it didn’t always behave in the way that we expected using the management console. Often it reported erroneously that it had not been updated, even though we could see the updates taking place and the files on the client side were changing timestamp. But the real turning point was on the server side. The server software seemed to use an inordinate amount of CPU power and relatively huge chunks of system memory to run. With only one client connecting, we were concerned that this could potentially escalate on a larger network of computers. In the end, although the software had many of the features that we were looking for, and seemed to be a step up from Symantec Antivirus, we decided to try out some other options.

Most of the other software out there doesn’t give you a management console, so we decided to review our requirement for this and decide how important it was. To be fair, our organisation is not large enough to warrant the use of a management console. Generally our users are good enough to notify us directly of any issues with their computers or of any error messages that appear on screen. We can handle manual installs fairly easily. And we don’t really feel the need to dedicate a Windows PC to acting as an antivirus server. So, with that out of the way, a realm of antivirus options opened up to us.

Many online reviews and comparison charts cut us down to reviewing the following options:

  • E-trust (by Computer Associates)
  • AVG Professional
  • Avast Professional
  • Kaspersky Antivirus

While E-Trust was highly recommended to us, it seems that there are no corporate licencing bundles available on their home page. Each licence (priced at $49) can be extended to cover up to three workstations. Overall, our calculations priced this software as a little beyond our budget to install across our entire organisation. We also found relatively few online reviews to encourage us in this direction and decided to give it a skip. However, apparently the Windows XP antivirus detection tool recommends E-Trust in its suggested software list, and I’ve heard that you’re capable of downloading a one year free trial from Computer Associates. So for many home users, this is not a bad option.

I’ve used Grisoft’s AVG Personal Edition on a number of friends home PC’s and have generally been fairly impressed with it. It is not incredibly resource hungry. I have seen it catch out the odd virus. And its free for non-commercial use. Which makes Grisoft one of those companies that should be sainted for their contribution to ridding home computers of the horrible stuff that keeps propogating around the Internet. So I had high-hopes for their professional software. We decided to have a look at AVG Anti-Malware, because it deals with a bit more than just your average antivirus requirements. Bundled licencing only covered up to 5 computers at a time, however with a 2 year subscription discount, at this rate we would only pay $29 per PC. That costs significantly less than the other options that we had looked at so far. Generally the software seems to run pretty well, but clearly with the added overhead of its spyware detection features it is a little more resource hungry.

In the free personal edition antivirus market there is also the option of Avast! Antivirus. Avast has a lot of good reviews out there on the net, and definitely seems to be one of the favourite free options for home users. That said, we were somewhat disappointed after the install to discover an untidy interface that hardly seemed intuitive to us. To be fair, Avast can be skinned. Which means that you can download a variety of alternative looking interfaces to the software. But herein lies my objection to using this software at a corporate level. We aren’t looking for a pretty antivirus that can be customised to match your wallpaper! We’re after software that works and does so with minimal overhead. Avast doesn’t seem the obvious choice in this arena. Looking at the volume licencing, we would be paying around $25 per PC for 2 year’s support. So its a bit cheaper than AVG’s offering. However, you buy licences per PC, which means that for each additional PC you bring into your network you’re going to have to buy another licence. This is a pain in the ass from my point of view, I would far rather buy into a volume bundle that allows us to use the software on as many machines as we like, as long as that number does not exceed a certain point. So, perhaps with inadequate review, we decided against using Avast! Nonetheless, for the home user, it seems like a pretty good option and its current userbase seems overwhelmingly happy with it.

Finally, we tried Kaspersky. This software has endorsements all over the web for its low system overhead and for the strength of its antivirus detection. The trial version installed and updated quickly. We decided to perform a full system scan which took an age to complete. Reading around on the Net, you should only have to do this once, and thereafter you can set Kaspersky to only scan new and modified files. This significantly minimises the amount of work that the application is doing and keeps scanning times down. Another cool feature is the option to set preferred places to search for virus updates. In a corporate environment, this is very handy as we can reduce our network traffic significantly by downloading updates once and putting them into a fileshare. Kaspersky also has a range of options for volume licencing, and for the number of licences we’re looking at getting, we’d pay around $29 per PC, so roughly the same as AVG.

On the whole, we’re thinking of going with Kaspersky based on the overall response from actual users across the web. It had a neat interface and was pretty unobtrusive as software goes. The pricing is reasonable and we believe it will be a step up for the company.

Of course, if anybody else has any recommendations they would like to make, we would really appreciate your comments.

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