Editors' note: On March 5, 2008, CNET revised its antispyware review ratings to emphasize a product's ability to remove spyware. The new ratings are based on the following formula: Installation (20 percent), Features (20 percent), Performance (50 percent), and Support (10 percent). In most cases a product's rating went down, expanding the range between highest and lowest rated.
Many of improvements within McAfee VirusScan Plus 2008 are in the code, which is where you want them to be. McAfee has gone ahead with a silly marketing campaign emphasizing that it alone will protect your desktop, protect your Web browsing with Site Advisor, and will also protect your mobile phone for one price. Which makes us suspicious--why tack on the extras? Two of three "triple play" protections were actually offered last year, and, at the time of this writing, the mobile component still wasn't available for testing. Instead of repackaging itself, McAfee should have pared down the system resources it uses, enhanced its firewall more, tweaked last year's interface, and switched to a more streamlined download and installation process. As it stands Mcafee VirusScan 2008 looks and feels like warmed-over last year's product, with too few "must haves." Bottom line, for solid, award-winning antivirus protection, without the gimmicks and the ever present up sale to more expensive suites, Kaspersky Anti-Virus 2008 remains our Editors' Choice for 2007.
McAfee VirusScan Plus 2008 includes one PC license at $39.95, but McAfee also offers three-user licenses for $59.95, and additional licenses for a mere $10 each. By comparison, BitDefender Antivirus offers its three-user license for $29.95. Kaspersky offers its single license at $49.95, but matches McAfee on its three-user price. McAfee VirusScan 2008 runs on Windows 2000, XP, and Vista, while Norton AntiVirus 2008 only works on XP and Vista.
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. What's curious is that McAfee didn't scan our computer (which other AV products have also stopped doing) yet VirusScan Plus insisted our computer was secure on first load (other AV products prompted us to initiate a scan right away). This may be an interface bug or perhaps reflect McAfee's overenthusiasm for its proactive, real-time anti-malware heuristics. It would be nice if it prompted us to run a scan.
Should you want to remove McAfee VirusScan Plus, unlike most antivirus products we've seen this year, 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 AntiVirus 2008 leaves behind registry files and some system files.
The McAfee Protection Center interface has not changed since last year. It 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 fully integrated 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 its various tools--security, utility, networking--together so that the overall product feels more integrated and whole. Norton still feels like several standalone applications repackaged. This year McAfee VirusScan Plus 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 remains in the middle of this year's pack of products in terms of overall performance.
One additional quibble is that by using the same interface for all its products, McAfee will list Attention under some of the nonused subheadings such as Parental Controls. To turn on Content Blocking, for example, we're told we'll need to buy McAfee Internet Security or McAfee Total Protection. This kind of up sale is unnecessary, and somewhat deceptive (maybe we don't want content blocking, or have it from another product). If you just want an antivirus product, you should be able to buy just an antivirus product.
McAfee bills VirusScan Plus 2008 as its six-in-one security solution. Included within are many interesting tools such as the system diagnostic tools to shred deleted files and defragment your hard drive; various network monitoring tools; and McAfee's own antisphishing tool, SiteAdvisor. Although SiteAdvisor was included last year, it lacked the antiphishing component.
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.
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).
McAfee VirusScan Plus stays in the middle of the pack, sometimes trending toward the upper end of the middle. On our iTunes test, VirusScan Plus placed solidly in the middle of the pack at 271 seconds. In our Microsoft Office test, VirusScan Plus 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 or not McAfee VirusScan Plus 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 VirusScan Plus 2008 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 VirusScan Plus 2008 also earned an Advanced (second-highest) rating (PDF). From CheckVir.com, McAfee VirusScan Enterprisewas 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 part of its software policies, Download.com does not host 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. McAfee does, however, provide an exhaustive 217-page manual. By comparison, only Kaspersky offers a complete 321-page manual; none of the other major AV companies provide these any more. 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 it 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. a robust user forum, and toll-free telephone support. There is an active community forum as well.
McAfee VirusScan 2008 and other McAfee products are bundled with various hardware systems; for the purposes of protecting your PC, they'll do just that. Plus you'll get the manufacturer's technical support. But for the discerning user looking to get the best protection, we suggest you try another product. The lack of a quality technical support from McAfee is stunning given that smaller antivirus companies do a much better job supporting their customers than this venerable giant in the industry. Rather than putting its energy into marketing gimmicks like "triple play," it would be nice to see McAfee take the lead next year and offer a truly solid antivirus product like Kaspersky or even Norton.