After incorporating its purchase of , McAfee's SpamKiller 5.0 continues a strong spam-fighting tradition with a slick new interface. It proactively filters mail coming into MSN, Hotmail, or standard POP or MAPI e-mail clients (but not AOL or Mac clients) and works either as a standalone spam stopper or as a tool inside Microsoft Outlook or Outlook Express. While SpamKiller stopped around 90 percent of the spam coming into our test POP account, it didn't do as well in MSN. Worse, McAfee's free tech support sets new standards for ineptitude. SpamKiller remains our pick for Outlook Express users, if only because there's no competition, but Outlook users will do better with , while Eudora heads should opt for .
SpamKiller's installation works but requires more configuration than most spam filters do. To install the program from McAfee's site, you first download an ActiveX wizard, which grabs the software from the McAfee site and installs it on your system. SpamKiller automatically locates your e-mail-server account settings and adds them, but you'll still have to configure your e-mail client's POP server settings manually. Once you reboot, the program is ready to log on to your accounts and start hunting spam. Unfortunately, SpamKiller also automatically installs the McAfee Security Center, which seems to exist solely to promote other McAfee products. You can uninstall it.
Installing SpamKiller also means installing the McAfee Security Center, which routinely pops up informational windows on your screen that serve no real purpose.
SpamKiller 5.0's interface is smoother and sleeker than version 4.0's. Tabs on the left side of the screen let you move easily between program settings, a list of friends whose mail won't be blocked, your messages, and an overall summary page. In the Message window, you can tab between lists of blocked and accepted e-mail messages; drop-down arrows let you view each list by e-mail account or all at once. With a few clicks, you can flag any spam the program missed, create filters, create friends, rescue messages SpamKiller blocked by mistake, send complaints to the spammer's ISP, and more. In all, it's one of the slickest looking antispam packages we've seen.
Unlike previous versions, SpamKiller 5.0 now integrates into the toolbars of Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express, adding buttons that let you delete spam the program missed, view blocked messages, or add friends. However, other programs that integrate into Outlook, such as Qurb or iHateSpam, offer full functionality from within your e-mail program. Annoyingly, SpamKiller 5.0 still requires a standalone program to access many of its best features, such as the configuration option that inserts "**spam**" into the subject line, then sends it to a spam folder in your e-mail client.
SpamKiller 5.0's streamlined interface features a neat summary screen that provides stats on how much junk you're getting and what's inside it.
Overall, SpamKiller 5.0's features are a mixed bag: some tools are easy, others hard. For example, adding friends is easy--just select a message, click Add A Friend, then choose whether to add a single e-mail address, the entire domain, or the entire mailing list. Reporting spammers remains very easy. However, unlike in SpamKiller 4.0, it now takes more than one step to add a friend and rescue the friend's blocked message or to add filters to block more spam.
SpamKiller stopped 90 percent of the spam coming into our test POP account--and nearly 95 percent after we created additional filters. While the program produced a fairly high percentage of false positives, or blocked legit mail (mostly newsletters), this dropped almost to nil after a few days of creating more friends. Unfortunately, on our MSN account, SpamKiller blocked less than 30 percent of our spam. If you're an MSN user, we can't recommend SpamKiller; in addition, it doesn't work at all with AOL or Macs.
In a turnaround from last year, McAfee now provides some of the poorest support in the business. Phone help is expensive: $3 per minute or $39 per incident. Worse, McAfee's free, 24/7 online support for SpamKiller is so bad, they should pay you to use it.
Long, long waits and buggy chat software make using McAfee's free support options an unbearable experience.
For example, we had to wait nearly three hours to chat with a technician. During that time, McAfee's chat window popped up and often captured our keystrokes intended for other applications. Once, SpamKiller crashed in the middle of a chat, taking our entire PC down with it. We also logged on at other times and experienced waits of more than an hour before giving up.
McAfee does offer e-mail support, but the form is buried under the Feedback option and requires personal information first (such as your company name, address, and phone number).