Foxmarks – Synchronize Bookmarks Across Multiple Computers

foxmarks_logo.pngA couple years ago I wrote about Google Browser Sync, a slick extension for Firefox that allows you to synchronize bookmarks, cookies, history, and even tabs across multiple computers.

A similiar FREE tool is Foxmarks Bookmark Syncronizer, though Foxmarks focuses exclusively on… well, synchronizing bookmarks.

I’ve been using Foxmarks for several weeks now, and it has become one of my favorite extensions for Firefox. Review version: 2.0.45

Installation and Initial Sync

Once you install Foxmarks, you will be greeted with a setup wizard.

foxmarks_setup.png

Once you create (or log into) your account, you must then make a choice. Foxmarks needs to know how you wish to handle any differences between the bookmarks already existing on your computer and those on their sever (if any).

foxmarks_initial_sync.png

Be sure to read the choices carefully! For my initial setup, the first and third options are best. For adding additional computers, I tend to use the option to keep bookmarks on the server.

After the initial sync is finished, Foxmarks will run silently in the background, keeping your bookmarks updated.

General Usage

foxmarks_icon.pngUsing Foxmarks is so easy, a drunken cockroach could do it. Quite frankly, there is very little to do. While it’s running, you will see its icon in the bottom right corner of your browser.

By clicking the icon, you can bring up the Foxmarks settings, including the advanced option to force an overwrite of bookmarks either on the server or the local computer. There’s not much else to do. If you need help, find a drunken cockroach.

Online Accessibility

This is one of my favorite aspects of Foxmarks, one that made me convert to it from Google Browser Sync. At any point, you may log into my.foxmarks.com and manage your bookmarks.

If you add, edit, or delete a bookmark on the server, Foxmarks will push it out to all of your computers the next them they sync. The control freak in me loves this ability.

my_foxmarks.png

Did you see the sharing button in the screenshot above? That’s right, you can also share specific folders of bookmarks with other people. You can share as many folders as you want in various formats, including as a web page, RSS feed, or even as a widget for your own web site or blog. Nice!

foxmarks_sharing.png

If you find yourself using multiple computers frequently (at work, at home, on the road, etc), you owe it to yourself to try Foxmarks. It’s one of my essential Firefox extensions now.

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Domain Switch Complete – from habibbijan.com to TipsFor.us

As you may have noticed, I recently changed the domain name from habibbijan.com to TipsFor.us.

Why?

The old domain (habibbijan.com) was difficult for the average person to remember and pronounce. I liked the old name, which is a combination of an old nickname plus my middle name, but alas, it was time to make the domain name more relevant to the content of the site.

Since the bulk of the content is comprised of tips and tutorials relating to computer technology, the new domain (TipsFor.us) is much more relevant.

Are you keeping the old domain name?

Yes. Also, all links to the old site *should* automatically redirect to the appropriate page. I hope.

Will all the old content remain?

Yes.

Anything else new?

Um… yes and no. The site will still focus on computers and software, but you may see more variety in the topics covered. Two good friends will be joining me in creating content, and the articles they produce will be tailored toward their areas of expertise. Stay tuned.

Will you write a tutorial on how you switched domains with WordPress?

Say, that’s a pretty good idea. I should do that sometime soon. 🙂

Are you still “not a terrorist… seriously”?

Um, yeah. Of course. Seriously.

* for those unfamiliar, my old tagline was “not a terrorist… seriously.” Before you freak out, it was meant as a joke. Hmm, I wonder how many government watch lists I’m on now….

An Overview of Free Antivirus Programs – Part X – Blink Personal Edition

Welcome to the tenth installment in our series on free antivirus programs. Be sure to also see:

  • Part I – AVG Free Edition
  • Part II – PC Tools Free Edition
  • Part III – Comodo Antivirus 2.0 Beta
  • Part IV – Avast 4 Home Edition
  • Part V – BitDefender v10 Free Edition
  • Part VI – EAV Antivirus Suite Free Edition
  • Part VII – Avira AntiVir PersonalEdition Classic
  • Part VIII – Clamwin
  • Part IX – McAfee/AOL Special Edition

Up for review today is Blink Personal Edition. Review version: 3.5.5 (Rule version 1435)

Product link: Blink Personal Edition

The Blink antivirus program is produced by eEye Digital Security, a company more well-known in the enterprise world than in the personal sector. In fact, I was not even aware that they produced a “personal” edition of their software until a reader pointed it out to me (thanks Andy!). Back in 2001, eEye was the first to discover the “Code Red” worm, and their customer list sports an impressive array of companies, including Visa, Harvard University, and the US Department of Justice.

With that in mind, let’s evaluate their free edition of Blink. Like the McAfee/AOL Special Edition, Blink Personal includes an antivirus program, anti-spyware, and a personal firewall. Be sure to download the “free” edition, and not just a trial of the professional version. Unfortunately, the free edition is only available to users in the continental USA and Canada. Other users will only receive a 30-day trial. From their website:

If you are located within the continental United States or Canada your subscription license will be valid for a period of 1 year from the date of activation. At the end of the 1 year license period, you have the option to purchase another subscription to maintain the protection you will have grown to trust.

If you are located outside of the locations noted above, you will receive a 30-day trial of Blink Personal.

Installation – In order to download Blink, you must provide an e-mail address. From what I have been reading, prior versions of Blink required product activation after installation. I am pleased that activation is no longer required. The download is hefty – weighing in at close to 44 MB.

During installation, Blink will ask for a serial number (not required). Without a serial, Blink will activate a subscription valid for one year.

blink_license.png

The verbiage on their website is confusing regarding this (my emphasis added):

At the end of the 1 year license period, you have the option to purchase another subscription….

Does this mean that one cannot simply re-register on their website in order to unlock another yearly subscription, or is this in reality only a one-year free trial? I suspect the former is the case, but I wish they would use the word “renew” instead of “purchase” if they truly intend to offer a “free” version.

A reboot is required after installation.

Interface – Blink’s interface resembles a standard Windows utility, with a navigation panel on the left and a main window on the left. While it is easy to navigate, my main complaint is that the white text on the light background is difficult to read.

blink_main.png

I like the ability to set its running mode to “silent” by right-clicking the system tray icon. This way it will not bother you if you are watching a movie or playing a video game.

blink_silent_mode.png

Updating – Almost every antivirus program I have reviewed so far includes an “update” button somewhere on the main window. Blink, unfortunately, is not one of them. This is not a big deal, but seems like a strange omission to me.

To manually check for updates, navigate to the Tools menu first.

blink_manual_updates.png

Like most every other free program, Blink includes an automatic updating feature. You may choose to have the updater check daily or only on the day/time that you specify.

blink_auto_updater.png

Footprint and Scanning – Blink’s resident scanner only occupies roughly 7 MB of RAM on my machine. When I activated a full scan, Blink’s memory usage unbelievably dropped below 5 MB! Impressive.

Blink offers three different types of scans: Quick scan, Full scan, and a Custom scan. I love the ability to set a scan priority – with the slider set to idle, I could still tell that a system scan was running, but my computer remained responsive.

blink_scan_properties1.png

With priority set to idle, Blink is no speed demon. Running a complete scan on my machine (over 400 GB of files) took just under two hours, making it slower than most competing free programs. Given the added weight of the spyware scan, this is expected (and acceptable). I did not scan with priority set to normal or high.

Curiously, Blink identified part of the open-source 7-zip application as infected with W32/Istbar.CXB. Considering that none of the other antivirus programs that I tested came to the same conclusion, I can only assume this is a false positive.

Types of Protection – The number of features offered is definitely one of Blink’s strengths. The inclusion of spyware detection and a personal firewall puts it in the same league as McAfee/AOL Special Edition. Blink includes:

  • On-access and on-demand scanners
  • Spyware detection, blocking, and removal
  • Online identity protection (anti-phishing)
  • Built-in firewall (includes stealth and passive modes)
  • Computer settings protection (protects applications and the Windows registry)
  • Missing patch protection (for media players)
  • Vulnerability assessment (an awesome tool!)

Like most programs, Blink includes a targeted scan in the “right-click” explorer menu. Performing a targeted scan is a mult-step process. First, Blink will spawn a settings window.

blink_right_click_scan_settings.png

Secondly, a scan window will open that must be closed manually, even if no threats are found. I prefer Avast’s current method – a targeted scan spawns a scanning window, but the window automatically closes if no threat is detected.

The rules-based firewall performs admirably, but will require some tinkering and training, as there are rules available for both applications and the entire system. Many common rules are already in place and can be activated or de-activated with a click of the mouse.

blink_firewall_rules.png

I appreciate the ability to create custom firewall rules with a wizard.

blink_rule_wizard.png

One delightful feature that I have not found in any other free programs so far is the ability to create a Vulnerability Report customized to your system. Upon your demand, Blink will generate a highly-detailed report categorizing any security vulnerabilities by risk (high to low). All information regarding hardware, ports, and services will be displayed.

blink_vulnerability_report.png

I’m a fairly literate guy when it comes to personal computer security, so it damages my pride to say that Blink found five “high-risk” vulnerabilities. 🙂 Fortunately, four of them were related to out-dated media players (such as Quicktime). My fifth vulnerability was related to anonymous access to the registry, something more important in a production environment than in a personal environment. Blink even offers instructions on how to fix any vulnerabilities. Nice!

EICAR TestHere is a link where you can download a harmless test file that should be detected as malicious by antivirus programs. As I’ve mentioned before, it is NOT a real virus. In order to test the effectiveness of a program, I download the EICAR test file to my desktop and start counting to see how long it takes the antivirus program to find it. Sooner is always better than later. Let’s see what Blink thinks of it.

blink_eicar.png

Blink snagged it before it could even touch the desktop. Excellent.

Final Thoughts – Blink is a competent, yet complex, tool. Like McAfee/AOL Special Edition, Blink will appeal to users who do not wish to install and maintain separate antivirus, antispyware, and firewall applications.

Blink does a lot of things well. It’s light on resources, feature-laden, and offers a massive amount of customization. Its Vulnerability Report alone is unparalleled in the free antivirus arena.

However, with power comes responsibility. Blink’s high level of customization also means that it takes a more knowledgeable user to fully harness its abilities. This is not an ideal “install and forget” security package for your grandmother, but more advanced users will appreciate the level of control given to them.

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Returnil Personal Edition – FREE Virtual System Software

returnil-logo.pngI test a lot of software on my Windows machine. However, I usually feel a slight twinge of remorse whenever I install or uninstall an application, mainly because I know that I’m bloating the Windows registry. Yes, I know about registry cleaners, but still, it’s a hard feeling to shake.

Enter Returnil. What is it? Quite simply, it allows you to create a virtual system of your machine. With a click or two of the mouse, you can turn on system-wide protection that will “freeze” all of your files, settings, and programs into place. Any changes you make to the system will be reversed once you reboot.

Returnil Personal Edition is free for home users.

Usage

So, how do you use this software?

First of all, install it. It’s a small download (about 2 MB). During installation, you will have a choice as to whether or not you wish to create a virtual partition, the purpose of which is to save files permanently while system protection is ON. If you only have one hard disk (with one partition), I highly recommend that you enable this virtual partition. You may also set a “master” password during installation if you wish. Installation requires a reboot.

Here is the main interface:

returnil_main.png

Actually using Returnil is so simple that a drunken cockroach can do it. For the most part, you only have one option – turn ON system protection. The Returnil system icon is green while system protection is OFF.

returnil_off.png

The system tray icon turns red once you turn system protection ON.

returnil_activated.png

Once the system protection is activated, you can do whatever you need to do. Install that crappy demo software program, surf the darker side of the interweb, or open potentially infected files. If you’ve ever wanted to test how your anti-malware programs would react to known viruses and spyware, perhaps now is the time to test! 🙂

Keep in mind that if you modify any data, the ONLY way to save it is to store it either on a separate partition or on the optional virtual partition. Of course, you could always store data on a USB drive or somewhere on the internet. Altered data left on your main partition will be erased once you reboot your computer.

Speaking of rebooting, this is the ONLY way to turn off system protection. Upon reboot, your system will look exactly like it did the moment you turned system protection ON. Any data you deleted will be restored, any programs you installed will be removed, and any malware you purposefully installed will be eliminated.

Returnil works by storing your settings in RAM. My system has 2 GB of RAM, and while that’s well above the required minimum (128 MB for XP, 512 for Vista), I never noticed any system slowdown, even after extensive system changes. I even fired up Guild Wars and played for a while with system protection ON. No problems. Of course, your mileage may vary, especially if have closer to the minimum amount of RAM.

Final Thoughts

Returnil is useful for a variety of purposes – my favorite of which is for testing a variety of programs without junking up the Windows registry. If I find a piece of software that I want to test, I simply turn ON system protection, install the software, and test to my heart’s content. Once I’m finished, I reboot to my previous system, and there is much rejoicing. 🙂

I’m aware that there are other free software options that accomplish a similar task (such as Sandboxie), and they certainly have merit. I like Returnil for two main reasons:

  1. It’s simple to use. If you have trouble, check their FAQ. Or ask a drunken cockroach.
  2. Since rebooting is the only way to disable system protection, there is no risk of “leakage” that can occur between the virtual environment and the real environment. Of course, the downside here is that programs that require a reboot in order to use them cannot be tested since the reboot would erase the program installation.

Returnil is compatible with Windows XP, Server 2003, and Vista 32-bit.

Happy virtualizing!

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An Overview of Free Antivirus Programs – Multi-Part Series

Do you currently pay to use an antivirus program? Have you thought about trying a free replacement, but had no idea where to start? Do you really get what you pay for?

Fear not. As a champion of free software, I assure you that you can easily survive using a free antivirus program. In fact, I have been using a free antivirus program for about five years now. Though I had my favorites before I began this series, I decided to try every free antivirus program that I could find. This series serves as documentation of that process and provides an overview of the free antivirus program currently available.

If you have been following my series, then you know that I recently completed the ninth installment. There are still a few more possible programs that I am considering for review, but I plan to take a brief hiatus from this series. Therefore, I will use this post as the overall summary of what I have discovered so far, and will add to it when I review an additional program.

Here are the links to the individual reviews:

  • Part I – AVG Free Edition
  • Part II – PC Tools Free Edition
  • Part III – Comodo Antivirus 2.0 Beta
  • Part IV – Avast 4 Home Edition
  • Part V – BitDefender v10 Free Edition
  • Part VI – EAV Antivirus Suite Free Edition
  • Part VII – Avira AntiVir PersonalEdition Classic
  • Part VIII – Clamwin
  • Part IX – McAfee/AOL Special Edition
  • Part X – Blink Personal Edition
  • Part XI – Rising Antivirus 2009 Free Edition

Keep in mind that this series focuses more on usability rather than on sheer detection rates. Naturally, the malware detection rates of antivirus programs are important, but they are not the sole indicator of a program’s merit. After all, if a program excels at detection rates but slows your machine to a crawl, is it worth using the program?

I do not have a system chock full of viruses to test, so instead I decided to focus more on aspects such as aesthetics, features, and resource consumption. If a program already has an excellent track record for detection rates, I try to point that out as well.

Summary of Features

Click the thumbnail below for a quick summary of each program, including information on registration, rebooting, ads, scanning, and upgrades.

antivirus_summary.png

(click to enlarge)

Recommendations

So, which programs do I recommend? It depends on your needs. If you use a POP3/IMAP e-mail client such as Outlook or Thunderbird, then I can easily recommend Avast or AVG.

If you do not use an e-mail client and rely on web-based e-mail, I highly recommend Avira AntiVir (provided you can deal with the popup after updates).

If you are an open-source junkie, ClamWin may suit your needs. Keep your eyes peeled for the upcoming release that includes an on-access scanner. ClamWin is also available as a Portable App.

For all-inclusive protection, I actually recommend McAfee/AOL Special Edition. Just try it before you knock it because of the name.

Other Thoughts

If I have only accomplished one thing by creating this series, I hope I have convinced a few people that there is no real need to purchase antivirus software when there are a number of solid free programs available. If you want to support a free program by purchasing an available upgrade, feel free, but I cringe when I see people purchasing yearly subscriptions to commercial programs without even considering an alternative.

How about you? What’s your favorite free antivirus program and why? Feel free to comment below.

Oh, if you find a free antivirus program that you think I should review, contact me.

This series took a long time to write, so if you enjoyed it, please give it a digg (or a Stumble, or Mixx, or whatever). 🙂

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An Overview of Free Antivirus Programs – Part IX – McAfee Security Center (AOL Special Edition)

Welcome to the ninth installment in our series on free antivirus programs. Be sure to also see:

  • Part I – AVG Free Edition
  • Part II – PC Tools Free Edition
  • Part III – Comodo Antivirus 2.0 Beta
  • Part IV – Avast 4 Home Edition
  • Part V – BitDefender v10 Free Edition
  • Part VI – EAV Antivirus Suite Free Edition
  • Part VII – Avira AntiVir PersonalEdition Classic
  • Part VIII – Clamwin

Up for review today is McAfee Security Center (AOL Special Edition). Review version: 7.2 (build 7.2.147)

Product link: McAfee Security Center (AOL Special Edition)

Wait a minute! AOL plus McAfee? Those two names strike fear into the hearts of computer users, at least those of us old enough to remember the internet before the explosion of blogs and the social networking craze! Back in those days when the “dancing baby” ruled, installing McAfee on a computer was like pouring motor oil into a car’s gas tank, and AOL itself was practically a virus considering its “hostile takeover” of any computer for anyone dumb enough to install it.

Still, times change, and I am willing to set aside any former bias and look objectively at their free offering, which is an antivirus/spyware scanner plus personal firewall. Let’s hope I don’t regret it!

Installation – First things first, in order to install McAfee Security Center, you must have an AOL screen name. If you have ever used the AOL Instant Messenger, then you already have a screen name. Once you sign in, you will receive a download link and a serial number.

The setup file is essentially a download manager, and will download and install the components that you choose. I opted for the full package, including the firewall.

mcafee_dl.png

No reboot is required after installation. The serial number that I used gave me a subscription valid until 8 December 2008, and I assume one only needs to enter the AOL screen name again to get a new serial number.

Interface – The McAfee/AOL Security Center sports a clean, professional interface. Here is the main window:

mcafee_main.png

By clicking “Advanced Menu” in the lower-left corner, you can… enable the advanced menu, which displays other options such as Configure, Restore, and Reports & Logs.

I am pleased to see that there are no nag screens or advertisements to “upgrade” to any other version.

Updating – Like most every other free program, McAfee/AOL Special Edition comes with automatic updates. Not only that, you have a number of options available concerning how “automatic” you want updates to be. I prefer updates to happen transparently and in the background, but if you want to be notified before updates occur, you have the option to do so.

mcafee_update_options.png

Of course, manual updating is easily done by clicking the large Update button on the basic menu. Once updated, a notification will slide up from the tray, which you can suppress by checking the box next to “Do not show this alert again.”

mcafee_updated.png

Footprint and Scanning – One quick note here: I could not get McAfee/AOL Special Edition to work properly on my main machine. This is disappointing, but considering the amount of software testing I do on my machine, the problem probably lies on my end. Installing and running McAfee/AOL on a different, more “normal” machine worked just fine. My main machine is due for a re-format sometime soon, and I will try it again on a clean system.

That said, I cannot yet report on scanning times in direct comparison to the other programs that I have tested. I will update this entry in the near future.

On my secondary machine, which is an ancient AMD Athlon XP 1700+ with 512 megabytes of RAM, McAfee/AOL Special Edition runs surprisingly well. In normal usage, the resident shield utilizes roughly 24 MB of RAM, and I have not yet noticed any significant slowdowns in normal system usage.

Running a complete scan is a slightly different story. Provided the program is minimized, the system is still responsive, but McAfee/AOL Special Edition takes its sweet time in scanning. Even though my processor is past its prime, scanning the 15 GB of files on my secondary system took almost an hour. Your results may vary, but I estimate McAfee/AOL’s scanning speed to be somewhere in between Avast/AVG (shorter) and ClamWin (longer). I will be able to draw a more direct comparison in the coming weeks. One thought here is that McAfee/AOL by default scans for spyware as well as viruses, so perhaps this is a justification for the longer scan times.

Speaking of scanning, clicking Scan on the Basic Menu will perform a full system scan. If you want to scan only specific locations, use the Advanced Menu. Here you can choose other scanning options, such as whether or not to scan archives (recommended) and look for spyware. I appreciate the option to scan for and remove cookies as well.

mcafee_advanced_scan.png

One other thing: by default McAfee/AOL will play a sound if malware is detected and will also display a splash screen when Windows boots. To disable both of these, go to the Advanced Menu and choose Configure, then Alerts, and then click “Advanced.” You may then un-check those options.

mcafee_sounds_splash.png

Types of Protection – The number of protection types offered in McAfee/AOL Special Edition is rivaled only by Avast. For starters, it includes:

  • On-access and on-demand scanners
  • Spyware shield (detects, blocks, and removes)
  • Built-in firewall (includes stealth mode and lockdown)
  • E-mail and IMAP/POP3 scanning
  • Instant Messenger scanning – useful if you send/receive files through IM
  • Rootkit detection
  • Script blocking
  • Boot-time protection

This is the only free program I have reviewed so far that includes virus protection, spyware detection, and a firewall all in one bundle. If you are attracted to the idea of installing a single program to handle most of your security needs, then you will enjoy McAfee/AOL Special Edition.

Like most every other program, McAfee/AOL integrates a targeted scan into the “right-click” explorer menu. Performing a targeted scan will spawn a result window from the system tray that looks like this:

mcafee_targeted_tray.png

While I appreciate the option to not show that alert again, there is one significant flaw in the program logic. When I choose an option to NOT see an alert, I assume that I will only have to interact with the program if there is a threat. However, the way McAfee/AOL currently works is that choosing to not show the alert will cause the entire program to launch from the tray after a “right-click” targeted scan! This goes against all reason and logic in choosing to NOT show an alert in the first place! I prefer Avast’s method – a targeted scan spawns a scanning window, but the window automatically closes if no threat is detected.

The personal firewall is surprisingly full-featured for a free offering. It includes a security-level slider, program and system services permissions, as well as the option to trust or ban IP addresses by range. Not bad.

mcafee_firewall_stealth.png

One other neat feature of the McAfee/AOL Security Center is the Manage Network option. In a nutshell, if you install the program on more than one computer in your network, you can monitor its status and even perform remote vulnerability repairs. In the screenshot below, you can see a layout of my home network, and McAfee/AOL is currently installed on two machines.

mcafee_network.jpg

It looks slick, but I’m not sure how useful it would be for me in practice. Perhaps more useful would be the option to check the status of a machine over the internet (such as a parent’s or grandparent’s computer), but that would involve port forwarding and other potentially complicated issues.

EICAR TestHere is a link where you can download a harmless test file that should be detected as malicious by antivirus programs. As I’ve mentioned before, it is NOT a real virus. In order to test the effectiveness of a program, I download the EICAR test file to my desktop and start counting to see how long it takes the antivirus program to find it. Sooner is always better than later. Let’s see how McAfee/AOL Special Edition handles it.

mcafee_eicar.png

Boom! The file did not even have a chance to hit the desktop before McAfee/AOL snagged it. Well done.

Final Thoughts – I have been using McAfee/AOL Special Edition as my default malware scanner and firewall for several days now, and I must say that it has grown on me. Sure, its scanning speed is slower than some other free programs, and I don’t care for how it handles “right-click” targeted scans, but for a free program, it has a lot of potential. As I mentioned before, the addition of real-time spyware detection plus a personal firewall to the free antivirus package gives McAfee/AOL a lot of appeal.

Mainly, it will appeal to people who do not wish to install and maintain separate antivirus, spyware, and firewall programs. Sure, you can achieve similar results by running a combination of free programs such as AVG, Spyware Terminator, and Online Armor (or whichever separate programs you prefer), but McAfee/AOL is simpler for many people. For instance, if you are responsible for maintaining a parent’s or grandparent’s Windows machine, it’s very easy to just install McAfee/AOL Special Edition and then occasionally double-check it by running a program like ClamWin from a USB-flash drive.

As I mentioned in my AVG review, I prefer programs that do one thing and do it well, so I doubt I will use McAfee/AOL on my main machine. However, I’m tempted to install it on my wife’s computer for more long-term testing.

One thing is for certain: I see no reason for people to spend money on antivirus software (especially by McAfee!) when such an offering is available for free.

Unfortunately, many people will be unable to look past the McAfee and AOL labels and judge the program objectively, but those who do may be as pleasantly surprised as I am.

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An Overview of Free Antivirus Programs – Part VIII – ClamWin

Welcome to the eighth installment in our series on free antivirus programs. Be sure to also see:

  • Part I – AVG Free Edition
  • Part II – PC Tools Free Edition
  • Part III – Comodo Antivirus 2.0 Beta
  • Part IV – Avast 4 Home Edition
  • Part V – BitDefender v10 Free Edition
  • Part VI – EAV Antivirus Suite Free Edition
  • Part VII – Avira AntiVir PersonalEdition Classic

On the docket today is ClamWin Free Antivirus. Review version: 0.91.2
Product link: ClamWin Free Antivirus

A quick note – ClamWin is unique among all the free products that I have reviewed thus far because it is open-source. Due to its open-source nature, there are absolutely no nag screens, advertisements, registration requirements, licenses, expirations, or paid upgrades. Sweet.

ClamWin is also similar to the free version of BitDefender in that it currently does not have an “on-access” scanner.

Installation – Installing ClamWin is as easy as falling off a horse. As mentioned before, there are no registration requirements, serial numbers, or any other hurdles. Just install and start using. Due to the lack of “on access” scanner, Windows Security Center does not recognize ClamWin as a valid antivirus program.

Interface – You won’t find any flashy interface here. ClamWin is designed for one main purpose – scanning your drive(s) for viruses, and that’s what the main interface presents. Here it is:

clamwin_main1.png

Can you say “barebones?” The scanning window is very stark as well.

clamwin_scanning.png

Don’t let the start interface fool you – there are a number of configuration options available under the hood.

Updating – Holy updates, ClamWin! When they say on their website that the virus definitions for ClamWin are “usually updated several times a day,” they mean it! You can choose update settings based on hourly, daily, weekday, or weekly intervals.

clamwin_update_options.png

Once I set it to “hourly,” I began noticing update notifications like these almost every hour.

clamwin_updated.png

Of course, you can choose to disable automatic updates and update manually if you prefer, though I don’t recommend it.

Footprint and Scanning – Due to the lack on an on-access scanner, ClamWin consumes almost no resources. It resides in the system tray, updating itself like mad and patiently waiting for you to tell it to do something.

Scanning, on the other hand, is a slightly different story. While my system remained responsive during a scan, ClamWin’s scanning time is by far the slowest of all the programs I have tested so far. For starters, there is not a one-click “complete” scan option – but it IS possible to just shift-click the drives that you wish to scan. Simply scanning just one of my drives took hours. Whereas most programs can scan my full system in just over an hour (over 400 GB of files), I estimate that it would take six hours or more with ClamWin. Of course, your mileage may vary.

Scanning time is by far ClamWin’s weakest area, but due to its open-source nature I suspect that it will improve in the future.

Types of Protection – As I mentioned, ClamWin does not currently have an on-access scanner. Its main purpose is to function as an on-demand scanner, just like the free edition of BitDefender. However, ClamWin surpasses BitDefender in that it offers integration with Microsoft Outlook. From what I can tell, ClamWin only supports Outlook for POP3 mail protection, and not other programs such as Thunderbird. Again, this is a feature that has room to grow, and I suspect that it will have support for open-source mail clients in the future.

ClamWin has the ability to scan memory, and also integrates into the “right-click” explorer menu for targeted on-demand scanning.

EICAR TestHere is a link where you can download a harmless test file that should be detected as malicious by antivirus programs. As I’ve mentioned before, it is NOT a real virus. In order to test the effectiveness of a program, I download the EICAR test file to my desktop and start counting to see how long it takes the antivirus program to find it.

As with BitDefender, this particular test is invalid due to the lack on an on-access scanner. Even so, we can see if the targeted on-demand scanner finds it.

clamwin_eicar.png

Yes it does. Be sure to check your preferences in order to tell ClamWin what to do with infected files. There are three options available: report only, remove, or move to quarantine.

Final Thoughts – ClamWin is an interesting choice in the free antivirus arena. I applaud its open-source nature and its numerous configuration options. The slow scanning speed is a letdown, but it makes up for it with its manic frequency of updates.

If you can live without an on-access scanner, then perhaps ClamWin is right for you. If you have careful surfing habits and regularly scan executable files before you run them, you probably won’t miss the on-access scanner. Just maintain vigilance and set a scheduled scan every day/week.

For most people, though, the lack of an on-access scanner is certainly a limitation at this point. The good news is that an on-access scanner is in active development. Once it is unleashed, I suspect that ClamWin will turn many heads in the free antivirus arena. I look forward to that day.

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