Antivirus protection is generally one of the must have software products if your computer is connected to the Internet. Commercial programs vary in their effectiveness and cost, but there are also some reasonably good free anti-virus programs available, if you look for them.
There are several organizations that test and rank these programs, one is http://www.av-comparatives.org/ and another is http://www.av-test.org/. It takes some time to study the comprehensive reports at av-comparatives.org, such as this anti-virus test PDF (their latest test as of the date of this post). Another series of anti-virus tests was journaled by pcworld.com in affiliation with av-test.org.
As an aside, it’s curious to note the disparities between all three sets of AV software comparisons linked above. Back to virus.gr’s comparison.
Kapersky Lab’s product is listed as number one, and I’m not particularly surprised based upon previous test results I’ve seen, but the second best ranked product with the same percentage rating is AOL’s Active Virus Shield (AVS). AOL?
As another aside, here’s a different set of free security tools from AOL. Back to AVS. . . .
AOL’s End User License Agreement should give one pause regarding privacy. Will Active Virus Shield‘s tool bar contain adware functionality at some point in time? If so, then my read of the EULA suggests the use of certain types of strict port-blocking stateful-inspection firewalls, unless they’re configured to allow AOL’s potential future ads, would be prohibited.
I decided to give AVS a try. To get the activation key I used one of the ‘spare’ email addresses that I keep for giving out to spam-suspect sites and for online form submissions requiring an email. I decided to try it on a laptop, specifically a HP Omnibook 6000 running Win98se.
The first thing I noted was that AVS came as an msi file: this was somewhat harder to install than a setup executable. Msi files use Windows Installer: it’s a command line Windows program requiring precise syntax. It’s file name is msiexec.exe.
My first few tries failed and one time I received the error, “Incorrect Command Line Parameters”. Once I placed the path to avs.msi in quotes, and also placed a copy of msiexec.exe in the directory where I saved avs.msi, everything went smoothly. This is what I entered in the Start > Run command line dialog that worked:
msiexec /i "C:\my files\downloads\avs.msi"
Make sure the path part of the command (drive:\your path\avs.msi) reflects the directory you chose when you downloaded and saved avs.msi.
If you don’t want to copy msiexec.exe to the download directory and presuming that it’s located in C:\windows\system\, hereâ€™s an alternate command line that works:
C:\windows\system\msiexec /i "C:\my files\downloads\avs.msi"
After installing and using AVS for a few hours, the only undesirable operation I’ve noted on the laptop is that the CPU fan runs the entire time AVS is installed, which is pretty much all the time Windows is booted. I find the fan noise irritating on that little machine, but this is probably because it “provides real-time protection against active virus threats.” AVS does have a checkbox to reduce power usage when a portable computer is running on battery power, but it seemed to have no effect on the fan while the computer was plugged into a wall outlet.
The only other !disappointment was that its first scan didn’t find even one virus already existing on that computer! Perhaps this means the other measures I’ve taken to limit malicious activity on that Internet connected machine are working well enough, at least so far.
When I browser-downloaded an EICAR test file, AVS wouldn’t allow me to save the file to the drive until I had turned off file protection because it reported the file as infected. Cool! I then emailed this EICAR file to myself specifically to insure that the POP3 scan was working with the ASCII only email client I use. It was, and no special email client configuration was required!
Unfortunately, the CPU fan noise bothered me so much on the laptop that, after investigating the processes and first reducing their priority, then killing them completely, with the fan dutifully running even after all processes related to it were killed (according to ProcessExplorer), I decided to uninstall AVS. For this I used a third-party uninstaller that watched the installation: Windows standard uninstaller is notorious for leaving some registry and other files behind, in other words, not uninstalling everything. Over time, this leads to registry bloat, decreasing overall system performance.
Other than the fan noise and the EULA issues, I found that AVS was simple to use and operate once I got past the initial installation difficulties. It may be a much more desirable anti-virus solution on a desktop machine with fans farther from the user. It certainly seems to provide ‘active real-time protection’ against web-downloaded files and email threats.
Since I mentioned free anti-virus tools for non-commercial use at the beginning of this post, perhaps I should list the other ones I’m aware of, but please keep in mind that this list is not meant to be comprehensive. For DOS, a long-time classic is F-Prot for DOS. Products for Windows machines specifically: Avira AntiVir, BitDefender, avast! Home, and AVG (both avast! and AVG seem to have during-download email scanning capabilities); as well as ClamAV, an open-source antivirus for UNIX that has been ported to Windows as ClamWin.
Edited by Ken, February, 2007.