At one time, McAfee SpamKiller was the most reliable antispam weapon in our arsenal. That time has passed. Poor installation, mediocre performance, and some annoying technical glitches make McAfee SpamKiller 6.0 a poor choice. We recommend MailFrontier Desktop instead.
When you install SpamKiller, you're also installing McAfee's Security Center, a secondary desktop window that provides occasional security alerts but mostly exists to promote other McAfee products. This year, we were unable to remove Security Center without also uninstalling SpamKiller--so if you choose to install this product, you're stuck with the whole thing.
SpamKiller creates its own accounts for your existing e-mail addresses and clients, meaning that your e-mail is filtered through another system before it reaches your in-box. That's fine, except the setup program found outdated e-mail account information on our test machine, which we then had to correct. To complete installation, you have to open your e-mail software and manually change your POP server settings to check these SpamKiller accounts instead of your original e-mail accounts. Beginners would easily be flummoxed by this process.
Unlike Norton AntiSpam 2005 and MailFrontier, SpamKiller doesn't fully integrate into popular e-mail clients. Although the software does create a toolbar inside Outlook and Outlook Express, clicking the button to, say, view all your blocked mail takes you to a separate McAfee application where you can view and rescue messages it blocked by mistake. You'll then have to wait until the next time you download your mail to get the previously rescued messages--an extra hoop other programs don't make you jump through.
In our informal tests, McAfee trapped about 80 percent of our junk mail and 15 percent of legitimate mail--not awful, but not great either. Norton AntiSpam and MailFrontier best it on both counts. McAfee SpamKiller 6.0 does, however, offer a few features not found in either of the other programs. For example, you can edit its text-based spam filters or even add your own. And as always, you can rat out spammers by sending a notice to their ISP's abuse department, although unfortunately, since most spam return addresses are phony, the complaints may end up going to the wrong people.
McAfee gives you two live support options: either pay $3 a minute (maximum $39 per incident) to talk to a tech or use the chat application on the McAfee Web site to get immediate help. The good news is that unlike last year, we didn't have to wait three hours for a chat. "Stan Vega" appeared almost instantly but provided only a partial solution to our problem. Unfortunately, to get chat support you'll have to turn off your browser's pop-up blocker. This leaves you vulnerable to pop-up ads from McAfee itself. For example, we received a pop-up that looked like a McAfee security alert but was really an ad for Winferno's SecureIE software. We think that's just plain obnoxious.