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NORTON VS. MCAFEE [Product Review]

ANTIVIRUS SOFTWARE NIGHTMARE: NORTON VS. MCAFEE [Product Review]

When the Melissa virus first struck in March of this year, this reviewer rethought the issue – that despite the fact of never encountering any viruses over the past twenty years (by being very careful what files are opened), that viruses are getting smarter and more numerous all the time (over 13,000 known viruses at present). … Especially so, when Melissa turned out to be another virus associated with email.

That could be a worst case scenario nightmare for a publisher – when news and press releases are a vital part of email.

Melissa affected many users, organizations, and Internet email servers, who often unknowingly, passed along the virus along to others.

The decision was made to finally install an antivirus software program, and the McAfee VirusScan program (Network Associates) was chosen initially over Norton AntiVirus (Symantec) because the McAfee CD-ROM contained all the various Windows programs on a single disc that was needed to run both DOS/Windows 3.1 -and- Windows 95 on the same PC. (The Norton Antivirus program at the time was contained in separate packages.)

This decision quickly became its own worst case scenario nightmare, as the story unfolds.

Background on Viruses

A virus is a software program designed to replicate and spread. It attaches itself to other programs such as word processors, spreadsheets, disk boot sectors, and most recently, email. Viruses range from being annoying to destructive. Most often they are transmitted by sharing floppy disks, but with the advent of the Internet, many today are downloaded, and there are thousands of virus strains.

Viruses come in a variety of forms such as boot sector/partition tables, multi-partite, Trojan Horses, file overwriters, polymorphic, and stealth – to name a few.

What Antivirus Scanners Do

These scanner antivirus software programs examine every file on a specified drive against a list of known viruses, often detecting it before it can run. Periodic scans can be programmed by the user to scan the entire PC system on a periodic basis, while TSR portions of the antivirus program work constantly in the background to protect against infection from floppy disks, and downloading from the Internet or other sources.

However, with the rapid proliferation of viruses being introduced, it is absolutely necessary to frequently update the list of viruses (called ”DAT” files) and/or upgrade the antivirus program itself. DAT files should be updated at least monthly.

Theoretically, the McAfee and Norton programs should be fairly similar – but they are -not-, as this comparison will prove.

McAfee VirusScan

How McAfee rates their antivirus program as being #1 is beyond comprehension.

This reviewer elected to install the McAfee product in DOS/Windows 3.1 first, to see what happened. Everything appeared to run smoothly, so the Windows 95 version was next installed. Again, installation went smoothly.

The first thing that became readily apparent in -running- either the DOS/Windows 3.1 or Windows 95 versions, was that the system slowed down considerably, mouse moves were erratic, and .WAV audio files had a ”staccato” effect while the program first loaded. Once the McAfee product was disabled, all PC functions ran normally.

Although the initial installation processes went smoothly, it was not until after downloading the current DAT list (4020updt.exe) to update the DAT files from the McAfee and/or Network Associates servers that it was discovered that the updated file was incompatible with the Version 4.0 that came in the package (getting an installation ”Information” error message that a later version was needed). (McAfee offers -one- free upgrade to the product and ”lifetime” DAT updating for the life of the product.) … And just trying to connect to the McAfee/Network Associates servers was a trying task in itself.

This reviewer then called McAfee’s ”free” technical support (long distance phone charges apply and the service is only available weekdays during normal office hours), and waited about a half hour before getting a ”live” download tech support person. Tech support advised that the DAT file available for downloading only worked in Version 4.02. – Thank you very much.

So Version 4.02 for Windows 3.1 was downloaded. Each time the attempt was made to download the 5.4 MB file, the server would ”time out” after about 20 minutes (and the servers were extremely slow). Confirmation of this server problem was also noted when calling the McAfee tech support line (while waiting) that, indeed, their servers had a ”time out” problem, especially if you were downloading at 56K or lower (Isn’t this just about everyone?). McAfee’s tech support advised, as an alternative, to download the five separate files which were about 1.2 MB each, constituting the whole program, and this was done successfully.

The new Version 4.02 caused Windows 3.1 to crash each time Windows 3.1 was booted. This problem was resolved by removing references to the McAfee product in the WIN.INI file. … The DAT files were still inaccessible (only now a different error message advised that the installation could not find any of the installed product). – The new DAT files were required to install protection against the Melissa virus, since the McAfee CD-ROM product was released in 1998.

Even downloading the update file twice, in the chance that the original downloaded file was corrupted, failed to resolve the problem.

All in all, this reviewer spent the bulk of two entire days (weekend excepted, when McAfee’s ”free” tech support is not available). … In addition -four- separate McAfee tech support people were questioned over this time – each of whom really didn’t have the vaguest clue as to what was wrong. … The last tech support person identified himself as being a ”technician” who said the file trying to be downloaded (4020updt.exe) was incorrect, and to download a zip file called ”DAT_4020.exe” from the Network Associates server. (This turned out to be ”DAT_4019.exe.”) .. It didn’t work either.

… But the uninstall program -did- work, and promptly removed the McAfee VirusScan from the PC. … Forget about upgrading the Windows 95 product!

If this reviewer didn’t ”just fall off the turnip truck,” then think of the number of unwitting users attempting to use this product.

Norton AntiVirus

In the one-month interim period since purchasing the McAfee product, the new Norton AntiVirus Version 5.0 became available. It too, now contains all Windows versions (Windows 3.1, 95/98, NT) on a single CD-ROM disc. (The Windows 3.1 version is 4.0.) – The price is competitive.

This reviewer quickly bought it – and installed it in both Windows 3.1 as well as Windows 95 without hitches or glitches of -any- kind.

It was not necessary to call Norton’s tech support at all!

Furthermore, there was no apparent slowing down of any PC functions, mouse, or .WAV files.

Norton AntiVirus contains features that include:

Scheduler – This permits the user to select weekly or monthly scans automatically.

Auto-Protect – This runs in the background to ensure a virus does not gain entry.

Scan at Start-up – Makes sure that critical system file are virus-free each time the system is started up.

LiveUpdate – Connects to a Symantec Web site and automatically updates/upgrades the DAT files and program to the latest versions.

Rescue Disks – Allows the user to boot-up the PC from the A drive if the hard drive should become infected (boot sector, etc.).

Netscape Helpers – Scans for viruses when you download using a Netscape browser.

Once installed in both versions of Windows, the LiveUpdate feature was activated. This does not use a browser, but rather uses Norton’s own built-in connection feature that dials-up your local ISP and connects automatically to Symantec’s download server. This is an absolutely fabulous and painless feature for updating/upgrading. (Because the DAT definitions virus list is growing so rapidly, it was found that it took three ”passes” to completely download the updates for Windows 95, and the DAT disks increased from two to five diskettes. … Not a problem.)

The LiveUpdate feature is free for an entire year from date of purchase and $3.95 a year thereafter. (One can live with that!)

… and if you want to view a list of the viruses (with info on most of them also available and what each one does), you can use the built-in viewer. In looking for Melissa it was found the real name is called ”W97M.Melissa.” (along with some other Melissa variants). They’re all there in the list. … And the first time around!

Conclusion

Norton AntiVirus wins hands down! … McAfee VirusScan loses big time!

An antivirus software program should be a solution – not part of the problem.

Without any doubt, McAfee VirusScan is the -worst- software product this reviewer has encountered in over twenty years. Notably: a poor product with many glitches – and old by the time it reached store shelves requiring an immediate update; poor technical support, including long wait periods of up to one hour; poor server performance and reliability; and inaccurate files posted for downloading.

The Norton AntiVirus manual accompanying the product is well-written, accurate, and concise. It also mentioned what might be encountered using the Rescue Disks for rebooting the system from a floppy, if multi-platforms (i.e. Windows 3.1 -and- Windows 95) were present on the same PC. The manual cited using SETUP for doing this, and indeed this worked well, if you wait for the press DEL (SETUP prompt) to show, then wait for the CTRL prompt ”Boot from Floppy” to appear and rapidly insert the disk into the A drive and press CTRL. (This may vary on some SETUP programs.)

Norton AntiVirus was so superb and easy-to-use that this reviewer sent Symantec an email telling them that such an excellent product was appreciated. (Tell people when they do a good job!)

One software caveat that should always be expressed is that each PC is often configured quite differently from another. Your own results may differ from that of another user for this reason, but it should not disable your PC in any way. (Antivirus programs -do- alter your autoexec.bat and config.sys files, and some other files, without telling you.)

Interestingly, antiviral software is rated as being the top-selling security software market with revenues that are expected to top $3 billion by 2002.

… But no matter how good the antivirus software you’ve just installed – updating the product frequently, and keeping a vigilance over safe PC practices will remain ”first things first” on your order of priorities.

Nice work Norton! [RSH]

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