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iolo AntiVirus - Can This Rookie Compete?

written by: Paul Pardi•edited by: Aaron R.•updated: 12/30/2007

Judging from the cool-factor of the iolo AntiVirus product icon, users should expect to be wowed. Any product entering an already established niche should knock your socks off. Does iolo AntiVirus match up against the other virus scanners out there, or should you give it a nice big yawn and move on?

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    Whenever I encounter software that is attempting to compete with well-established leaders, I always ask; "Why?" There could be a lot of reasons for such a move, from rounding out an offering to providing a "gateway" application with the goal of moving users to other, more innovative products. One motivation could be that the company doesn't like the way others are doing things and believes it can provide an offering that piggybacks the competition by providing improved or innovative features. An innovation leader like Apple (one of my oft-used go-to examples of fine engineering), is motivated by this latter goal I believe. I was discussing the iPhone with my brother recently and he remarked that the device doesn't do anything really new. It just does what it does better than any other device in the same space.

    Has iolo done for virus scanning what the iPhone has done for mobile phones? iolo AntiVirus has a strong, usable user interface and offers some well-designed features. It also does everything one would expect from a virus scanner. It will scan everything from executables to zip files. It supports scheduling and includes a customizable scheduler. iolo has also put out other tools like a firewall and a strong system maintenance product called "System Mechanic" (I reviewed System Mechanic for BrightHub as well). Is iola AntiVirus another jewel in the iolo crown forging new ground that other offerings will have little choice but to follow? Read on.

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    Installation & Setup

    Rating AverageWhat's Hot: 

    Upon launching iola AntiVirus, the installer immediately checks for updates and downloads them. It also checks to see if other antivirus software is running on the system, apparently to avoid conflicts. In the package I received, I was not allowed to proceed with the installation until I had entered my user ID and serial number. The install was fairly standard and did require a reboot.

    iolo AntiVirus takes up about 39Mb of disk space (this includes the update that was downloaded after the installer began) and the installer writes roughly 400 registry keys to the system. The uninstaller removed all but about a megabyte from the computer and all of the registry keys.

    What's Not: 
    iolo AntiVirus installer asks you to register the software about three dialogs into the installation. The default key for this dialog is the "Next" key which will take you to the registration dialog. If you're not into registering software before you've installed it, be careful to click the "Skip" key on this screen.
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    Price to Value

    Rating AverageWhat's Not: 
    An occassionally sluggish user interface, slow real-time scanning performance, and a less-than-adequate scanning engine plague an otherwise usable product. At just under $30, iola AntiVirus is slightly less expensive than other virus scanners but not worth the savings.
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    User Interface

    Rating AverageWhat's Hot: 

    The user interface for iola AntiVirus is relatively clear and appears professionally done. The icons are clear (iola AntiVirus has the coolest looking product icon I've seen in a while), and the layout  makes sense for the most part. It uses a single dialog box for everything and switches between "pages" to expose various aspects of the UI. The main info page is busy but readable. It offers actions along the larger, left-hand side of the screen and information boxes along the right. The information boxes can be "minimized" to reduce the amount of clutter on the screen although having them expanded isn't that muddled. The UI is rounded out by a toolbar across the top that exposes links to settings and a link to update the virus definitions.

    Because all the UI elements are on one screen, the interface could benefit both from breadcrumbs and by implementing a browser-like back button. When clicking through the various screens of the UI, I had to click the cancel button on each page. The UI does implement a "Home" button which brings the UI back to the main page which works since most functions are launched from this screen anyway. Thankfully, The UI wasn't deeply layered. Every needed element of the UI was generally available in a click or two.

    The UI is not extensive and I think this is a plus. Besides the scanning screen, the only other major UI element is the Settings screen. This element uses a tabbed metaphor which functions very nicely.

    A couple of links, like the ThreatCenter link and the virus definition encyclopedia will take you to the iolo web site. This makes for a bit of a discontinuous experience but the features that launch these web pages are marginal so the impact probably won't be too intrusive for most users. The UI also includes a taskbar icon which allows users to shut down the virus scanner completely or snooze the real-time scanner. The snooze option comes with the ability to re-enable the scanner after a set amount of time.

    The help file is a local CHM and appeared to be adequate and well laid out. There was no context-sensitive help. When help is launched, the user is brought to the home page and has to search for the content they're interested in.

    What's Not: 

    The iola AntiVirusUI seemed a bit sluggish. Some refreshes were not instantaneous, status messages didn't always update as expected, and some screen changes took longer than a second (clicking the "Settings" link for example took 2-3 seconds to load the settings screen).

    A couple of times, I accidentally clicked the "Perform Full System Scan" link which promptly started a scan. The scan can't be stopped until the memory and boot record have first been scanned which took around 30 seconds. This was a bit irritating. Perhaps a confirmation box (with the option to supress) would be better before a full system scan is launched. The UI is full of hotlinks which increases the chances of unintended web browsing.

    The UI doesn't support hover tips. In order to discover how some of the more obscure features or settings function, a visit to the help file is necessary (what does it mean to "use artificial intelligence"?). This modest feature actually brings quite a bit of usability to any UI and iolo AntiVirus would benefit from it.

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    Product Features

    Rating AverageWhat's Hot: 

    iolo Antivirus is a basic but adequate virus scanner. The tool will scan disks as well as email, support scheduled scans and realtime protection, and support automatic updates. The settings screens supports features like the ability to:

    • Scan network drives (real-time and on-demand).
    • Scan archive files like zip and cab files) and set a recursion level for those file types (real-time and on-demand).
    • Exclude certain files and folders (real-time and on-demand).
    • Scan incoming and outgoing email messages.
    • Disinfect macro variants.
    • Set an idle time before scanning will begin.

    In my tests, the implemented features perform as expected and will not disappoint most users looking for a middle of the road virus scanner.


    What's Not: 

    When I ran iola AntiVirus for the first time, I was told that the virus definitions were 17 days old and that I needed to update. The update link was right below the warning so I clicked the link to update and in seconds, the product appeared to download and install the latest updates. However, the message did not change so I couldn't be sure if the updates actually were applied. I tried this multiple times with the same result.

    When iola AntiVirus was installed (running or not) I couldn't get ActiveSync to sync to my Windows Mobile device. I tried to fix this problem by changing settings and even shutting down the scanners. I also checked the iolo Knowledge Base for a solution but couldn't find any information to solve my problem. Uninstalling iolo AntiVirus fixed the problem. Once the product was uninstalled, ActiveSync connected as expected. I found this to be an odd bug since iola AntiVirus doesn't include a firewall.

    While the feature set is expected, it isn't particularly noteworthy. For example, the product doesn't support network management of networked computers which is a feature many of the more modern scanners are supporting. There simply isn't enough here to make the product stand out amongst its very strong competitors. iolo needs an outstanding feature to convince loyal users of other products to take a serious look.

    The biggest problem was with iolo's virus scanning performance. The Eicar test site supports a number of different tests including hiding a virus in a zip file, a text file, and an executable. Of those three, iola AntiVirus detected the virus in only the last of these three. The scanner allowed me to download the infected zip file (which its archive scanner would presumably be designed to prevent) as well as the infected text file. Microsoft's OneCare scanner, by contrast, detected all three.

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    Rating AverageWhat's Not: 

    I ran some non-scientific tests on iola AntiVirus 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 iola AntiVirus 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 iola 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 on a 2.2Ghz Celeron, 1Gb RAM, Windows XP SP2 with all the latest service packs. Here are the results:

    No Scanners.
    1. Large Files: 18997 ms.
    2. Small Files: 6034 ms.
    3. Web sites: 6817 ms.

    1. Large Files: 19898 ms.
    2. Small Files: 12245 ms.
    3. Web sites: 7057 ms.

    The scanners did impact the overall performance for these basic tasks and in one case , the impact was not negligible. The largest hit came when copying lots of small files over the network, which is to be expected, and essentially doubled the time it took to copy the bits. For the work I do, this hit would be a showstopper. Users who go to their disk heavily may want to try the product for a while and do some real-world tests in their environment before making a purchase decision. The iolo runtimes around 40Mb of RAM (though this number fluctuated).

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    Did it update?Threat CenterVirus detectedChecking for conflictsRegister this product before you use itClose or Home?Minimize the clutterOnDemand settingsReal-time settingsSimple or sparse?
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    Suggested Features

    • Antivirus management of networked compters.
    • Improved scanner performance (particuarly of the realtime scanners).
    • UI tweaks.
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    In the wide world of virus scanners, iolo's AntiVirus isn't necessarily poor (though its scanner leaves much to be desired and bad enough to reject the product). The biggest problem is that it doesn't bring anything to the table that would make it attractive. The price is below other products with similar offerings but in order for that price to be attractive, iola AntiVirus has to at least be on par with the better antivirus scanners. iolo AntiVirus isn't. In the opinion of this reviewer, users would be better protected and better served by other products even if it means they spend a few dollars more.
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    Related Products

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