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At first glance, McAfee Internet Security 2008 appears not much different from last year's offering. But with a decisive change in the competitive landscape (i.e. Symantec's slip and stumble), McAfee's suite comes out looking much better this year. Whereas McAfee VirusScan 2008 looks and feels like warmed-over last year's product, the additional elements within the Internet suite and low price makes McAfee Internet Security 2008 a serious competitor. Unlike Norton, McAfee offers, in addition to antivirus, antiphishing, antispyware, and a personal firewall, a backup-and-restore feature (Norton still makes you buy a separate product for backups). We still have issues with McAfee's poor technical support, and we wish the security protection offered tested higher in third-party test results. But for a full protection suite, McAfee Internet Security 2008 is very good.
McAfee Internet Security 2008 offers three-user licenses for $49.95, with additional licenses for a mere $10 each. By comparison, Norton Internet Security 2008 offers its three-user license for $59.95. McAfee VirusScan 2008 runs on Windows 2000, XP, and Vista, while Norton Internet Security only runs on Windows XP and Vista. McAfee also includes its new mobile security product with each Internet Security purchase, but at the time of this review, that product was still unavailable.
McAfee continues to use a bootstrap method of downloading code to your machine, and then installing it module by module. This year the process was much faster in our informal tests. There's the security center, which you download first, then, depending on the product you purchased, the product itself is downloaded from McAfee to your computer. McAfee claims it can offer the latest build; the alternative is to install the product, then immediately update.
Should you want to remove McAfee Internet Security, there is no uninstall option for McAfee in the Windows>All Programs listing. Instead, you'll need to use the Windows Control Panel>Add/Remove Software option. Unlike last year--when McAfee left a mess--after our reboot, we were pleased to find no evidence left on our machine. In comparison, Norton Internet Security 2008 leaves behind registry files and some system files.
Although it hasn't changed from last year, McAfee's interface is more intuitive and better designed than Norton's. The McAfee Protection Center still offers a left-hand navigation for all tools, with a right-hand window pane for system status. Unlike Norton, which uses individual tabs for products such as Norton AntiVirus, McAfee's has its products fully integrated into its Security Center. We like this better. There are two tables of contents; one lists basic features, while a second lists more advanced tools.
We do like that McAfee has blended all of its tools--security, utility, and networking--together so that the overall product feels integrated and whole. Norton still feels like a collection of standalone applications repackaged. This year McAfee appears to have rewritten some of its code; it doesn't feel as heavy and clunky as last year's edition. That said, in our performance testing, McAfee's antivirus protection remains in the middle of this year's pack of products in terms of overall performance.
McAfee calls its Internet security suite its 10-in-1 product, but we find there's much more offered. Like other security suites, McAfee Internet Security includes all the features within its McAfee VirusScan Plus, then adds additional protection for the Internet suite. Like McAfee VirusScan Plus, McAfee Internet Security 2008 includes McAfee SiteAdvisor, antiphishing protection.
New is the ability for McAfee to scan links within IM messages and rate them. We found that this feature works with latest versions of AOL IM and Yahoo Messenger, two of the most popular IMs today; Norton offers similar protection but only for older builds of Yahoo and AOL.
Also new is a feature McAfee calls "State Aware," in which movies, slide shows, and even games play uninterrupted by security alerts or scans whenever you're in full-screen mode. It's a feature we've seen in other antivirus products this year; Norton doesn't offer this.
Enhanced over last year is the integration of antivirus, antispyware, firewall, and antiphishing. The heuristics, or System Guards, have also been improved.
Missing are more frequent updates of signature files and programs. Kaspersky updates hourly, while McAfee promises only daily updates (although it might, in an emergency, deliver more frequently).
For antivirus protection, McAfee Internet Security 2008 stays in the middle of the pack, sometimes trending toward the upper end of the middle. On our iTunes test, McAfee placed solidly in the middle of the pack at 271 seconds. In our Microsoft Office test, McAfee trended toward the high end, taking home the second-longest score at 1,519 seconds. In a test scanning a single folder with compressed and media files, McAfee scored 446 seconds, again, toward the high end of our middle group. And in terms of boot speed, McAfee was third-longest at 38 seconds. To find out how we test antivirus software, see CNET Labs' How we test: Antivirus software page.
In terms of whether McAfee Internet Security 2008 will protect your PC, we cite results from two leading independent antivirus testing organizations. In the latest test results from AV-Comparatives.org, for on-demand scans McAfee earned an Advanced (second-highest) rating, catching 93 percent of all malware tested and tying with Norton AntiVirus 2007. For the Retrospective/Proactive test, McAfee also earned an Advanced (second-highest) rating (PDF). From CheckVir.com, McAfee VirusScan Enterprise was earned an Advanced rating, which includes both search and antivirus removal.
For antispyware protection, McAfee remains solidly in the middle of the pack in our latest CNET antispyware tests. CNET labs conducts three separate tests using spyware found to be bundled within free applications rejected by CNET Download.com (as a policy, Download.com does not host any applications containing known spyware). In the first test, active detection, McAfee discovered about 60 percent of the spyware; in the second, on demand test, McAfee detected about 55 percent of the spyware; and in the final, removal test, McAfee removed about 60 percent of the spyware placed on our infected machine.
McAfee has improved its technical support over last year but still doesn't offer context-sensitive help like Kaspersky or Trend Micro, meaning you will have to search for specific help. New this year is a free McAfee Virtual Technician an optional plug-in which, when downloaded, will diagnose the state of your McAfee product and computer health and then make recommendations how to fix it--for free. It seems unnecessary, but then again you can't argue with the price. Symantec offers a Norton equivalent, but it'll cost you $69.95 per use.
McAfee Virtual Technician is the product's first line of defense. If it can't help, then you'll be directed toward the online FAQ, and, finally, chat or e-mail. If you try to jump ahead to chat or e-mail, you'll be directed back to the Virtual Technician first. It's as though McAfee doesn't want you to contact the company directly. Missing is telephone support. Or, rather, telephone support is listed under Fee-Based Support, with a variety of per-minute or per-incident plans starting at $2.95 a minute or $39 per incident, and user support forums are listed as "Community" off the main McAfee page, not from the tech support area where it is expected. There is no tutorial or online manual with McAfee. By comparison, Kaspersky offers a complete 321-page manual, a robust user forum, and toll-free telephone support.
It's not perfect, but in a strictly Norton vs. McAfee universe, McAfee Internet Security 2008 is a much better deal than Norton Internet Security 2008. Not only does McAfee offer more security features than Norton, McAfee integrates them with an intuitive user interface, one that allows you to understand the specific feature as well as tweak its settings. While individual security test scores could be higher, none are deficit, meaning McAfee provides you with more than adequate protection.