What sets Webroot Spy Sweeper apart from free products that remove ad-serving software (often called adware or spyware) from your desktop is its look and feel: the $30 Spy Sweeper handles like a big-league antivirus app, from its well-designed user interface right down its annual, subscription-based spyware-signature-file updates. In comparison, competing freeware products Ad-aware and Spybot Search and Destroy both have basic, less attractive user interfaces slapped over similarly powerful scanning engines. However, beyond the overall look and feel of Spy Sweeper, we can't think of a compelling reason to pay for the same underlying scanning features and performance already available in free software.
Spy Sweeper's 1.13MB file requires almost no time to download and install. After indicating whether to add an icon to the desktop or a link to the Start menu (both are set to Yes by default), the process is complete--no need to reboot. After automatically checking for updated spyware definition files, Spy Sweeper is ready to scan your system.
Spy Sweeper bundles its navigation buttons along the left side, leaving the right panel to display related information.
The main Spy Sweeper interface is more polished than Ad-aware's or Spybot's. Indeed, Spy Sweeper looks like the paid software it is, complete with rounded buttons and contrasting colors. Like many other applications, Spy Sweeper bundles its navigation buttons along the left side, leaving the right panel to display related information.
Spy Sweeper contains many of the same features found in Ad-aware and Spybot Search and Destroy. Like the competition, Spy Sweeper lets you choose between a full sweep, which scans your system registry and the entire hard drive for traces of spyware, or a quick scan of only your system registry. As with Ad-aware and Spybot, Spy Sweeper displays a checklist of all the suspected spyware it finds, allowing you to override its decisions and remove only the items you wish. By hitting the Next button, Spy Sweeper moves the suspected spyware to a secured quarantine folder
Webroot says that in the future, its spyware-definition database (a list of suspected spyware code that the company maintains on its servers) will be more thorough than that of the free competition--so much better, in fact, that the company is charging an annual subscription fee for Spy Sweeper updates. At present, it's apples vs. oranges. On our test machine, Spy Sweeper identified two more suspected spyware files than did either Ad-aware or Spybot, but overall, Spybot identified far more malcontents: third-party cookies, temp files, and system logs--all of which could leak personal information about your surfing habits. We think it's too early to tell whether Webroot is justified in its decision to charge when similar results are available elsewhere for free.
Spy Sweeper displays a running list of new spyware found during its full sweep or quick sweep of your system.
Spy Sweeper automatically enables a good security feature that prevents viruses from changing your Internet Explorer home page. Unfortunately, Spy Sweeper doesn't automatically enable its other security option to remove third-party cookies. For that, you'll need to change the configuration option yourself (under the options menu); even then, Spy Sweeper won't clear your Internet Explorer history or temp file folder as Spybot does. We hope future versions of Spy Sweeper will err on the side of caution and automatically enable its cookie feature.
The Quarantine feature in Spy Sweeper allows for the restoration of suspected spyware that's been "removed" from your system. Similar to the quarantine features found in Ad-aware and Spybot (known as Recovery), Spy Sweeper does not delete spyware found on your PC, but moves it to a secure folder. Most people will never consult their Quarantine folder, but, if, for example, you want to use the file-sharing software Kazaa, you'll need to restore cydoor.dll, a suspected spyware component, that will be removed by Spy Sweeper. Simply access the Spy Sweeper quarantine file from the main menu, click to restore cydoor.dll; now you can run Kazaa. However, once you're done with Kazaa, you'll need to run Spy Sweeper again. Webroot says later versions of Spy Sweeper will run automatically in the background, like antivirus apps, and be able to remove cydoor.dll once you terminate Kazaa.
Spy Sweeper's in-system help file does an adequate job of explaining what each button does--at some length. Unfortunately, Spy Sweeper does not go into enough detail about the threats it intends to stop and how they might infect your PC. There was no printed manual in the reviewed version, although Webroot does plan to sell boxed versions of Spy Sweeper in the near future.
The online FAQ is more concerned with purchase and registration questions than with actual use of the product.
The online FAQs mostly concern how to purchase a product, renew a subscription, or change an e-mail address. There are no Spy Sweeper troubleshooting FAQs available online. There is, however, free telephone support for subscribers. Webroot offers its toll-free telephone support Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. MT. If you'd rather, there's also e-mail technical support via online help ticket.