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Alwil is a Czech Republic security vendor that has been quietly producing Avast Antivirus for many years. There are two versions, Avast Antivirus Home edition, which is free and simplified, and Avast Antivirus Professional edition, which is paid and includes more advanced settings as well as additional features. In general, we were pleased with both editions and think the Home edition is better than AVG Anti-virus 7.5. However, Avast lacks some important tools found in other antivirus products, such as antirootkit protection, antispyware, and antiphishing protection, leaving you vulnerable in these areas. Also, the home edition runs in the 60-day trial mode until you register the product, a registration that will have to be renewed each year afterward.
We downloaded and installed the free Home edition of Avast Antivirus in a matter of minutes. But there's a catch: Avast Home Edition works for only 60 days after initial installation. In order to keep using the free edition, you will need to register for a free license key by e-mail. This license key is valid for one year. After that time, you will need to reregister to continue using the free edition.
After installation, you must reboot. Before Windows reloads, Avast performs a boot-level antivirus scan, looking for malware that might load with the operating system. Avast then uses pop-up balloons to explain the new icons on your task tray.
Should you decide to uninstall Avast, there is no uninstall icon. You will need to use All Programs > Controls Panel > Add or Remove Programs within Windows to remove it from your system. After a reboot, we found that several empty file folders under Program Files as well as several registry entries remained behind.
Upon launch, Avast initiates a memory and start-up scan of your system. You will also encounter a rather garish but nonetheless helpful screen explaining the Simplified User Interface. The simplified interface is stylish and designed for the end-user who just wants the PC to be protected; this interface is the only interface available in the free home edition. The second interface, which is available only in the professional edition is more advanced, with virtually no creative design. Ultimately, though, we think having the two interfaces is clunky and would prefer a better design in future releases.
Included in both the Home and Professional versions are the basic antivirus kernel, automatic updates, and P2P and IM shields for blocking viruses transmitted other than via infected Web sites and e-mail.
Also included in both is the Virus Recovery Database (VRDB), which captures information about the current state of a given file and saves that information for as many as three versions back. That way, if your system gets infected with a virus, Avast can roll back the infected file to a previous, uninfected version. In general, we found when VRDB was running that it zapped our system resources from time to time, so we turned it off.
Most useful within the paid edition is a second, more advanced user interface. The Enhanced User Interface features include on-demand virus updates, program and virus updates, and Go To Background, which throttles back to low priority the resources used by Avast Antivirus so you can work in Excel or any other application without latency.
What's missing in both editions is explicit protection from rootkits, a major security concern these days. Also, most antivirus products include some antispyware protection, but not Avast. Next, though it would be optional, it would be good to have antiphishing tools included as McAfee and others are doing with their antivirus products. And, of course, a firewall would also be nice.
Although we have not scheduled Avast Antivirus for formal benchmark testing through CNET Labs, we did find in informal testing that Avast Antivirus used no more than 10 percent of our system resources during a number of different scans--a fairly light performance hit. However, we did find that when generating the VRDB, Avast soared into the 40 percent system resources territory.
To determine how well a product will protect your PC, we refer to test results from two leading independent antivirus testing organizations. In the latest test results from AV-Comparatives.org, Avast Antivirus 4.7 earned an Advanced rating (the second highest), catching 93 percent of all malware tested. The other source, Checkvir.com, did not evaluate Avast Antivirus 4.7 2006.
Alwil is located in the Czech Republic. There is a comprehensive in-program help menu. There are also robust technical support forums, free e-mail support, and international telephone support, Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Central European Time.
We were pleasantly surprised by the Home edition and less so by the Professional edition. We hope that future releases of Avast include protection against rootkits, spyware, and possibly, phishing.