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McAfee VirusScan 11 (VirusScan Plus 2007)

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Sadly, after a long and distinguished history as the preeminent Windows anti-virus product, we were compelled to consider VirusScan 11 as one of the lemons that snuck in. Unfriendly, unworkable and apparently unfixable, this is a security application that does its job entirely too well. Users of VirusScan 11 might come to suspect that it’s been designed to defend them against themselves.

To its credit, VirusScan offers a rich library of virus signatures and it has some serious talent at dealing with cyber-nasties behind it. Its deficiencies, however, are in its user interface, its paucity of configuration options and its customer support… or the lack thereof.

VirusScan is part of the larger McAfee Security Center suite, a gathering of security applications including a firewall, real-time e-mail scanning, application integrity checking and several other tools. It must be said that all of these products do what they claim to do, and do it well. They just refuse to stop doing it, even if you have no need of their services.

Unlike earlier virus scanners, which were stand-alone applications that could be run when their users felt the need to scan their systems, VirusScan loads when your system boots up and stays running all the time. Left with its default configuration, it wants to scan your incoming e-mail, perform a complete system scan periodically, prevent most applications from accessing the Internet from your system and otherwise second-guess your every move.

While this should – at least in theory – keep your computer as virus-free as anyone short of God and Her immediate subordinates can make it, it requires a lot of system resources and system hooks to do so. The dual-core 2.66 gigahertz Pentium system we installed VirusScan on behaved like a garage-sale Windows 95 machine, with VirusScan soaking up much of its power. E-mail access became erratic. VirusScan’s pop up windows, warnings and messages were interminable.

After considerable banging away at its configuration screens, VirusScan eventually relented to having its myriad of automatic security features disabled. With this configuration, it will only scan for viruses when it’s called upon to do so. However, it still remains a running application all the time, soaking up some system resources, and it insists on displaying a warning that the computer it’s running on is not protected every time the system boots up.

While it’s possible to reach an accommodation of sorts with VirusScan, it’s hardly a perfect one. The software cannot be persuaded to scan individual files or folders – it insists on scanning an entire drive at the very least, and really wants to look at every local and networked device it can find. It can’t be configured to ignore specific files that are known to be safe, and will delete or quarantine files without permission if it thinks they’re infected.

It might be the case that some of the foregoing can be further addressed in VirusScan’s configuration screens, but we were unsuccessful in having the matter dealt with by McAfee’s support staff. Support for VirusScan consists of fairly maddening chat windows and a number of public forums wherein users can post questions and hope that someone else will come along and post a resolution. Some help does appear to be provided by McAfee staff who moderate the forums, but after several months of posting to it, we were unable to find work-arounds for the foregoing issues.

There are more immediate support options available for McAfee’s products, for an additional cost. Speaking with a live technician, for example, starts at $2.95 per minute. We didn’t explore these – by the time we’d exhausted our patience with the support forums, the next step was clearly looking for a more workable virus protection product.

VirusScan 11 may be a workable security option for users who are relatively new to Windows, and who are prepared to sacrifice a significant volume of system resources and utility in exchange for a nearly bulletproof defense against the most determined villains of the Internet. Even moderately experienced users will probably find its aggravation level outweighs its ability to defend their systems from viruses.