Although the PC is clearly a part of the Digital Home, antivirus software isn't a topic I'd normally address. But I've been round-and-round with titles from both McAfee and Norton in the past few weeks and am left wondering if I'm the only one that's very frustrated with the software. The developers seem intent on not allowing the user to configure the software the way the user desires. And once the antivirus and security software wrests control from the user, the PC becomes almost unusable.
Antivirus and Internet security software serves a noble purpose protecting our increasingly-online personal presence and data from threats that range from mischief to serious crime. But it's hard software to live with. Indeed, I had no antivirus software or Internet security software on my primary notebook PC until my recent experience. I was extremely careful of how I used the PC, the web sites I visited, and the email and attachments that I opened. I hadn't had a problem.
I'd probably still be unprotected from online mischief, and happy, were it not for a problem with my son's PC that prompted me to install McAfee. His computer became so infested with spyware and other malware, that the only solution was a reinstall of the operating system. Of course he didn't tell me about the problem until it was bad.
Working at a snails pace, the only pace at which the PC would go, he gathered all of his school work, music, and photo files under a single folder -- something that would have already existed had he listened to me. But the PC wouldn't even recognize an external USB drive. And the PC used two drives in an array, so we couldn't simply pull a drive and know that we could recover the data later. The system would recognize a USB Flash drive, so my son transferred the data, 8 Gbytes at a time, to an old notebook PC for which there was little virus concern. He then moved all of the data to a an external hard drive with USB, 1394 and eSATA interfaces.
I felt that some of the folders looked suspicious -- especially some music folders that he said he downloaded from independent artists' blog sites. My plan was to scan the data files with another system before I allowed him to add the files back to a stable computer with a fresh Windows install.
At the time, my desktop Windows Media Center system was acting a bit peculiar. Indeed, I had experienced sporadic boot failures since running a host of storage interface tests with different PCIe 1394, eSATA, and network adapters last fall.
So against my better judgment, I agreed to install some antivirus software on my notebook, and scan the external drive. Cox broadband, my Internet provider, freely supplies a version of McAfee to all customers. I downloaded that package and installed it on my notebook.
My experience has since been simply been horrible. I finally had to turn off the option that checks email and instant messages. The Core Duo system was unusable with that protection running. Even the virus scan is hard to control. I've yet to figure out how to have the software scan on my own terms. And I now have a bit of unstability in the system. I've gotten the blue screen of death sporadically. And Windows will report recovery from a serious error sometimes after a reboot -- things that I'd never experience prior to McAfee.
Worst of all, McAfee was useless in scanning the USB hard drive. Perhaps it can't scan a USB drive. But I can't confirm that theory in the online documentation. I could tell the software to only scan the E: (USB) drive. And it would blindly start a scan on the C: drive. Even when I allowed the C: scan to complete, the software not only didn't scan the USB drive, but it didn't even acknowledge that I had commanded it to. McAfee is coming off that notebook later this week.
Meanwhile I turned my attention to my desktop PC. I needed to fix it anyway. I finally got the mish mash of drivers under control and stabilized the system. I theorized that the desktop would easily scan the multi-interface external drive since I could use eSATA to connect the drive to the desktop system -- assuming that the USB link was the problem on the notebook.
I actually had Norton 360 installed on the desktop. It's definitely less intrusive than the McAfee package that I had downloaded for the notebook. And perhaps the quad-core processor on the desktop does a better job of masking the affect of the antivirus software. But I could not find any way within Norton 360 to only scan the external drive -- now connected with an eSATA cable. Moreover, post PC scan I couldn't find a log that verified that the software had scanned the drive in question. To verify the software did scan the drive, I basically had to watch the monitor fairly persistently to follow the progress as Norton scanned three internal SATA drives and then finally did scan the external drive and reported no problems.
While Norton 360 was less problematic than McAfee, it's hard to praise it. My one year subscription to Norton 360 is up next week. The software reminds me multiple times each day that I need to update. I can't find anyway to disable the reminder notices. Ironically, I have the new version of Norton 360 on my desk -- a free with rebate Fry's special. I can't decide whether to update or remove the package.
Anyone out there have a antirust and Internet security software recommendation? Anyone with a story to share? Fee free to comment.