Review: CA Internet Security Suite - A "Suite" Deal
Many security packages aimed at the home user are moving towards integration and ease of use. The advantages of this approach are that users can manage all their security applications through a single interface. Most of the time, the applications are aware of each other and work together. Still, integration is only interesting if the scanning software works and doesn’t slow things down.
CA (formerly Computer Associates) has been in the security business for some time. It offers software packages that secure large enterprise-class installations and very complex network models. Internet Security Suite is a security package aimed at the home user. Instead of integration, CA has chosen to create a suite by bundling individual applications. This makes for a less unified experience but provides more flexibility on what you actually put on your hard disk. It allows you to avoid installing software you don’t need or won’t use. This author takes no sides on which approach is better. I see the advantages and disadvantages of both. What matters most to me is whether the software works and how well it does what it’s supposed to.
I had no issues with installing or uninstalling the suite. Once installed, each application in the suite performed to my expectations. The individual applications in general are simple, but they function well, with a clear, clean interface (the only exception being the Parental Controls application, which I’ll discuss further in the User Interface section below). These applications are not for the power user or for users who need to do a lot of tweaking. But the general user will find the interface and features simple and functional.
Installation & Setup (4 out of 5)
Installation was smooth and seamless. The product uses a standard wizard-based installer that appears to wrap different products into a unified package. The installer provides an easy-to-understand menu for choosing which products to install although I wasn’t clear about the functionality of a couple of the items. The Desktop DNA Migrator is one such item. The installer does provide you with a help link to learn about each of the products before you install.
Price to Value (3 out of 5)
CA’s Internet Security Suite offers a lot of product for the money. It performs well, is easy to use, and appears to be well-engineered.
The product is in a very competitive field. While CA Internet Security Suite performs better than many in the field, it’s lack of integration will turn some off. Packages from McAfee, BitDefender, and Microsoft are in the same league as this package but offer tighter integration, central managment (in some cases) and are much less expensive.
User Interface (4 out of 5)
Each application in the suite has a very similar look and feel. The UI is definitely geared for the casual home user and is friendly and clear but a bit cartoony. The colors used for the UI design have nice contrast and the text is easy to read throughout. The applications use a button and tab interface. There is a common toolbar across the top.
I did notice a bit of sluggishness in the UI at times particularly when scans were being done in the background. I don’t think this is something to be all that concerned about since security software shouldn’t be something you’re in daily for long periods (if you are, it’s time to find new software).
As I mentioned in another section, the application called “Security Center” is just a wrapper for the individual applications. It functions as it should but doesn’t really offer any true integration. The tray icon is functional allowing you to launch each individual application, update the software, and launch the Security Center. Thankfully, you can snooze the Anti-Virus runtime scanner for zero to 999 minutes. Unfortunately, you cannot snooze the other scanners from the taskbar.
Product Features (4 out of 5)
The CA Internet Security Suite is feature-rich. You get quite a bit for the money. Each product in the suite can be evaluated as a separate product and that is how I’ll treat them in this review. The package is brought together through wrappers that allow you to access the various products through a single UI. In essence, the wrapper application simply launches each individual product. Each product can also be accessed from the system tray icon.
Performance (5 out of 5)
The spyware scanner started automatically and ran in the background while I was doing other work. It performed well. I noticed a slowdown when the scanner first started but the scan didn’t negatively effect my work after it was underway.
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. The second set with Anti-Virus, the firewall, and Anti-Spyware 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 eTrust 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:
- Tighter integration between the applications in the suite.
- Better online integration.
- Stronger firewall intelligence.
- Include the ability to pause all scanners from the system tray.
CA Internet Security Suite is a solid offering. Its ease of use and stellar performance should be very attractive to home users looking for a package that’s simple to install and use. Its higher than average price tag may be a turnoff to users doing competitive analysis. Still, if I were looking for a package to install on my home computers, Security Suite would make the short list.
Microsoft One Care, TrendMicro Internet Security, Norton 360