McAfee Internet Security 2005 is available via download from McAfee.com or as a boxed CD from McAfee or one of its resellers. There's no trial version of MIS 2005, although you can try McAfee VirusScan 9.0, McAfee Personal Firewall Plus, McAfee SpamKiller 6.0, and Privacy Service as individual downloads for 30 days each.
We had some problems installing MIS 2005. If you currently have antivirus software installed, whether or not it's active, you need to uninstall it. After we did that, our 70MB installation was relatively painless. Unlike Norton Internet Security, MIS doesn't require an activation code to unlock the suite, but you will have to register each individual McAfee module upon first use. For most, this automated process will be free from hassle, but we had problems.
As with other McAfee releases this year, we found bugs that the company should have caught before it released the software. In our case, the SQL server in Act 2005, the contact manager, read and deleted each newly created McAfee registration on our hard drive. McAfee technical support was able to duplicate this on its machines and ultimately suggested an appropriate workaround, but at press time, there was no word whether the company will patch the software.
The main interface for MIS is called the McAfee Security Center. Click one of the four modules along the left side to open its own screen window. The window offers further configuration options and displays your level of current protection, with additional explanations and links to a context-sensitive help system. Wizards and assistants help configure individual components for first-time use.
We were impressed with MIS 2005's overall ease of use, but a few controls struck us as awkward. For example, if you right-click within the Event Logs of Personal Firewall Plus to trust a Web site, then decide to change back, you can't simply block that site. You'll have to go to the Firewall Utilities page, then to the Trusted and Banned IPs page, and manually change the entry. We don't see why this couldn't be handled automatically from within the Event Logs page.
McAfee Internet Security 2005, like Norton Internet Security 2005 and Zone Labs ZoneAlarm Security Suite, is a suite of Internet tools designed to protect data on your PC and keep harmful data from entering your system. All three suites offer first-class antivirus solutions, firewalls, and antispam protection. The main differences lie in integration and extras: MIS 2005 is more cohesive bundle of standalone programs for antivirus, firewall, and antispam than Norton Internet Security. Nevertheless, the ZoneAlarm tools are much better integrated and therefore much easier to use.
On unique feature in McAfee is called McAfee Privacy Service (MPS), which allows you to block personal content from exiting your PC without your permission and to keep harmful content from entering your PC. MPS can also act as a parental control by blocking certain Web sites without prior approval. Additional functionality, however, is limited. For example, MPS was only moderately successful at blocking pop-ups and ads, missing a number of floating and flash ads on various sites. Similarly, cookie control was limited to maintaining an all-or-nothing pass-through list. Additionally, the ad-blocker component is unable to block Shockwave, Flash, and other compressed file formats, so some annoying ads continue to leak through. There are a few nice touches, however, such as the security question backup feature, which reminds you of the administrator password necessary to make changes within MIS. But these touches are only minor enhancements.
McAfee's help system has improved since last year. Live phone support still costs $2.95/minute (first two minutes free) 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily, or $39/incident 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily, unless you're otherwise covered by a service plan provided by Dell Computers or AOL. But McAfee now offers free access to an extensive, moderated forum; e-mail support; Internet chat with a technician; and a help tree/answer center FAQ. You can also search for specific words or phrases within the support database, which is detailed and well organized and neither condescends nor uses techno-jargon to make its points. Some of that information also makes up the bulk of the printed 121-page user guide included with the boxed edition.