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Trend Micro PC-cillin - Overdue for a Checkup (and a Diet)

written by: Paul Pardi•edited by: Aaron R.•updated: 10/26/2007

PC-cillin, Trend Micro's flagship security package, offers tons of features at a reasonable price, but it's due for a visit to the doctor. User-interface anomalies and setup issues plague an otherwise feature-rich, robust product.

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    PC-cillin has been in the vocabulary of PC users for more than seven years. It's been sold as a standalone product as well as bundled in the firmware of some routers. Windows Live Mail (formerly Hotmail) uses a version of Trend Micro's virus-scanning software to check every bit of mail that goes through its servers. Trend Micro is a veteran in the security business. This set my expectations rather high. Its time in service was evident through PC-cillin's large feature set and mature help system. However, it also is showing its age. Many of the features appear to be add-ons rather than tightly integrated components. The runtime components are bloated and eat up an inordinate amount of memory when loaded--another indication that much has been added over the years but little taken out. The user interface, while functional, suffers from minor anomalies that may irritate over time. PC-cillin, while feature-rich and usable, is an aging, bloated package that just doesn't stand up against the competition.

    Installation went smoothly enough, though users should be prepared to babysit through dialog boxes and reboots. After returning from a reboot following the main installation process, PC-cillin downloads updates, which also requires a reboot. Following registration, PC-cillin downloads more updates and requires a third reboot. Also, after the main installation I had some network connectivity issues that took me some time to work out. In this writer's opinion, the installer needs to be reworked to reduce the number of reboots and to wrap things more tightly.

    PC-cillin is chock-full of features, including a firewall, mail and IM protection, a data vault that protects personal data on your PC, and a phishing filter. It also includes a set of online services, though these seem more as though they've been bolted on. Many of the features seem powerful, but I had trouble getting some of them to work, and many of them seemed aimed more at the power user than the general computer user. I expect that few users would explore the deep feature set and instead work with the default settings. In my experience, users want an install-it-and-forget-it experience with their security suite. Some of the features require separate installations that give the overall package a "But wait; there's more!" feel.

    The user interface is accessible and well laid out. This makes navigating and managing the feature set easier. There is evidence that the engineers at Trend Micro have worked to keep PC-cillin modernized. Still, it does suffer from idiosyncrasies that, while minor, distract and could annoy over time. Some of the online interfaces failed when I tried to access them. As with other aspects of the package, the UI seemed disconnected between the various parts of the Windows application and the web properties. On the plus side, the application did detect the virus at the Eicar test site.

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    Price to Value

    Rating AverageWhat's Hot: 
    PC-cillin comes loaded with features from instant messaging protection to data file security. For the money, it will be hard to find a package that offers more. The feature set represents years of industry experience and a keen insight into the problems that a computer user can face.

    What's Not: 
    While the feature list is deep, I'm not sure how many of the features the average user will actually explore. Many of the features are a bit obscure and some were difficult to set up. I believe most users would not take advanatage of the deep feature set and would recommend that it not be a factor in making a purchasing decision unless one has a specific need for something the package offers.
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    Installation & Setup

    Rating AverageWhat's Not: 

    During the installation, the TrendMicro installer offers to install optional online components that help prevent phishing attacks. During installation, TrendMicro also detected a suspicious change to the computer's settings. Unfortunately, it was TrendMicro's installer that made the change. I would expect that the TrendMicro scanners would be aware of the TrendMicro install changes and approve them without warning.

    When the installation completed, I was asked to reboot the computer. Upon reboot, I had lost connection on my primary network card. Trend Micro's security package promptly warned me that I didn't have network connectivity and that this posed a security risk.

    I discovered that Trend Micro attempted to install a firewall miniport (a network device driver, or software that manages your network connection) that failed. I disabled the miniport and rebooted. This did not help. Finally, I uninstalled the network card and the miniport and reinstalled the network card and was able to get my network card to work. This was a horrible user experience.

    The software also writes about 330MB to the file system, and creates about 1921 registry entries. The software can be removed by rerunning setup; uninstalling by re-running the installer left about 288MB of data on the disk but removed all the registry entries.

    After the installation, PC-cillin popped up a message box that indicated that installation was not complete until I registered the software. It (falsely) indicated that registration was necessary in in order to keep the computer protected with the latest updates. At one point the pop-up was on the screen at the same time PC-cillin was downloading updates. Clearing the pop-up window with the close button would not dismiss it for good. In fact I was not able to find a way to keep the registration pop-up from displaying at regular intervals. I noted that when the pop-up displayed, it interrupted music I was playing through that computer. This registration bullying produced a very frustrating user experience. I was able to register using bogus information and that seems to have corrected the problem.

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    User Interface

    Rating AverageWhat's Hot: 
    PC-cillin's user interface is generally well laid out and clear. It uses a hybrid tab/button model with expandos to keep the user interface clean and to avoid having to produce multiple dialog boxes to perform various tasks.

    What's Not: 
    The UI does break some fundamental rules for world-class user interface design; however, I expect most users won't notice or care. For a full review of the general user interface, see my BrightHub review of TrendMicro's entry-level security package, Trend Micro Anti-Spyware, here.
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    Product Features

    Rating AverageWhat's Hot: 

    PC-cillin includes many of the same features as Trend Micro's entry package, but does include some added functionality that is probably worth the extra ten dollars--the firewall and the online features.

    PC-cillin comes with a firewall that fully integrates with Window's Security Center. Windows correctly detects when the firewall has been turned off and on and produces warnings when the firewall is no longer protecting your computer. It also is possible to download updates to PC-cillin through the Security Center interface, though it is not possible to modify firewall settings from the Windows Security Center interface.

    The firewall is robust. It is aware of breaches and alerts the user to programs attempting to use the computer's network connection. Many security packages use pop-up windows for alerts. Trend Micro shows firewall alerts in a dialog box where you're able to work through each item in the list and grant trusted permission to allowable items. Once an item is trusted, it will no longer prompt the alert dialog to appear. Some added niceties include a feature that allows you to view all IP addresses connected to your router and an option to scan the other computers on your network for viruses and malware.

    PC-cillin also comes with email security options and a phishing filter. "Phishing," for the uninitiated, is a type of scam where a website appears to be that of a legitimate company (e.g. your bank), but is actually a bogus site put up by a person attempting to get your personal information. The mail protection feature also includes data theft protection--a service designed to monitor your instant messaging, email, and web browsing and warn you if personal information is about to be transferred. In the event that you're about to transfer your credit card information via email, for example, PC-cillin will ask for your permission before the transfer is allowed. You also can set up an approved recipient list so that you don't have to approve data transfers for people or services you know and use regularly.

    The help and support features of PC-cillin are top notch. It is at the top of the list of security packages I've tested.

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    Rating AverageWhat's Not: 

    I ran some non-scientific tests to evaluate whether the scanning software would cause some obvious and immediate problems with basic tasks like browsing the Web and copying files. I wrote a small software program that would precisely time these operations. I ran a first set of tests without the software installed and running, and a second set with VirusScan Plus running in the background with all scanners turned on. For the first test, I copied five 21MB files over my home network from the local machine (on which AntiVirus would be installed) to a network share. The second test copied 300 8K files over the network. I was testing to see if smaller files, and more of them, would affect the scanners negatively. Finally, my program went to five major websites (with complex layouts) and downloaded their home pages. I ran each test five times. Here are the results:

    No Scanners
    Large files: 15561 ms
    Small files: 3789 ms
    Web sites: 5862 ms

    Large files: 15853 ms
    Small files: 8687 ms
    Websites: 6775 ms

    The performance differences between the tests is minor but, not unexpectedly, its clear that having the scanners on does affect latency in each area. The most noteworthy impact is in the second test, where I copied multiple smaller files over the network. The time it took to copy the files with the scanners running more than doubled. These differences may not be terribly significant in an isolated test like this, but the time lag will add up--and most likely be noticeable--over time if you do a lot of file-intensive tasks on your computer.

    With everything running, the PC-cillin memory footprint came to a whopping 175MB. Users with limited memory resources should take note before making a purchasing decision.

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    Online Services

    Rating AverageWhat's Not: 
    Trend Micro offers various online services that appear to be integrated with PC-cillin but only become available after you register with Trend Micro. It is possible to "register" with bogus information, so it appears that the software merely wants you to go through the registration wizard. It doesn't actually require you to register.

    Clicking on the Remote File Lock button opens up a browser window with a dialog-box-looking web page. I find it humorous when web designers attempt to make web pages look like Windows applications (if one wants a Windows application, one should create a Windows application). Unfortunately, when I tried to activate my account, I got an error from the server.

    After three attempts, I finally was able to activate my account. After activation, I was taken to Trend Micro's TrendSecure website (so the button in the application just links to the site--there isn't any true "integration"). Once on the site, I then had to click another button to get to the Remote File Lock feature.

    Throughout the process of trying to explore the online features, I frequently encountered connection problems to the Trend Micro web properties. The software indicated it was an unstable internet connection, but that must have been a problem on TrendMicro's site as I was able to open up other web pages with no difficulty.
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    Security & Privacy

    Rating AverageWhat's Hot: 
    PC-cillin accurately detected the virus in the Eicar test file. Instead of allowing Internet Explorer to route to the dangerous website, it produced its own page that detailed the issue and how PC-cillin protected me.

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    Firewall AlertData Theft FeatureScanning other network computersFirewall Security CenterFirewall warningNetwork connectivity problem post installInternet connection lossOnline service option during installRegistration screenPC-cillin warns of a suspicious change to the computerOnline services offeringOnline services connection problemRegistration required for access to online servicesRegistration failure
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    Suggested Features

    PC-cillin needs to focus on more tightly integrating the various components of its offering and reducing the size of its runtimes.
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    Trend Micro's PC-cillin is a middle-of-the-road security package competing against players with much stronger offerings. For the money, BitDefender's AntiVirus, McAfee's VirusScan Plus, and Microsoft's OneCare are much better options. PC-cillin's main drawbacks are its large memory footprint and kludgy installation and online service offerings. On the plus side, the user interface is easy to navigate and it comes well-stocked with features.
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    Related Products

    McAfee VirusScan Plus, BitDefender AntiVirus, Norton AntiVirus, Microsoft OneCare