Which is the Best Software Security Suite? We Compare Three Major Software Protection Suites to Tell You Which Will Protect You the Best

Introduction

This guide looks at three major players in security and protection
software suites: McAfee VirusScan Plus 2007, BitDefender AntiVirus v10,
and Trend Micro AntiVirus plus AntiSpyware. Two will help you sleep
soundly at night, but the third will have your head seeking the nearest
wall during waking hours.

In this guide, I’ll look at
performance, the user interface, features, and, of course, touch on the
security performance for each of the three programs, and offer guidance
the pros and cons of each.

Installation

McAfee’s VirusScan Plus and BitDefender’s Antivirus
v10 both installed and uninstalled without a hitch. Both required a
reboot post installation (mainly because they downloaded updates after
launching the application) and both tended to leave garbage on the
computer after install. BitDefender was a bit better behaved in this
regard leaving only some registry keys behind. Trend Micro’s AntiVirus
installed without issue but struggled a bit when I uninstalled and
reinstalled the product. It too left some modest garbage on the system
after the uninstallation. All three products did immediate engine and
virus signature updates after the installation completed.

Performance

All three products performed admirably in the modest
tests I ran. None of the packages noticeably slowed basic file and web
operations. BitDefender and Trend Micro caused some noticeable lag when
hitting internet sites. Still, neither created a performance lag worth
worrying about. I recommend users install trial versions of the
products to test performance in real-world scenarios before making a
purchase decision. All three packages offer a 30 day trial before
purchase.

BitDefender and McAfee had a reasonably small memory
footprint. Trend Micro on the other hand used a whopping 138 Mb of
memory when the scanners were running. Since the scanners run 24/7
(unless turned off by the user), that’s 138 Mb of memory that won’t
ever be available for other things. Users with little extra memory to
spare should test Trend Micro’s offering on their machines before
buying.

User Interface

BitDefender is the clear winner here. The
engineers and designers at BitDefender obviously put a lot of thought
into the UI to make it clean, clear, and highly usable. The screens are
informative and the UI is gives clear indicators of where you are in
the interface at all times. McAfee’s interface is a close second though
it’s easier to get lost than it is with the BitDefender offering. Both
packages offer a basic and advanced view, surface key features and
functions for easy access, and have adequate alerts and audio cues.
McAfee’s package sports help glyphs on almost every major UI element.
Clicking on the glyph will provide instant (though sometimes not very
helpful) information on what the UI element does.

All three
packages make use of the taskbar but to different degrees. Scanners can
be turned off and on from the taskbar but only Trend Micro’s offering
turns of all scanners with one click. McAfee’s package is the only one
that implements a timer so that paused scanners will automatically turn
on after a specified time. Unfortunately, this cannot be done from the
taskbar and one has to open the main user interface to take advantage
of this feature.

Trend Micro’s interface was the worst of the bunch.
While the screens were clear enough, there were some odd anomalies and
inconsistencies in the interface. Most of the oddities were innocuous
enough but a couple definitely affected functionality (one created some
ambiguity around how the scanning engines function) and so the UI
engineering for the AntiVirus UI gets low marks. Trend Micro’s package
also was a bit heavy-handed on registration and upsell. It reported
that my computer was “at risk” until I registered with Trend Micro.

Features

The leader in this space depends on one’s point of
view. If you’re looking for a lot of features including system tools
and online integration, McAfee is the far and away winner here. Their
package includes tools to change system settings and monitor internet
traffic to and from the computer, and even includes an interface to the
Windows Disk Defragmenter utility. McAfee’s product also has the best
integration with online services of the three. Not only does it update
the installed software regularly but it also will monitor global virus
activity and keep users informed of potential issues.

Both
BitDefender and Trend Micro offer about the same as far as features go.
I don’t consider these packages to be under-endowed. Rather they
provide what you’re paying for: virus and spyware tools. Contrary to
McAfee’s offering, neither include a firewall so users wanting more
than Windows Firewall will most likely lean toward McAfee
All three
packages allow the user to customize features. The McAfee and
BitDefender packages offered deep customization and tweaking. Trend
Micro’s package was a bit more modest in the depth of its
customizability but should be adequate for most casual users.

Security and Protection

BitDefender’s and McAfee’s scanning
engine both detected the presence of a virus from a virus test web
site. I was alerted to the presence of the virus via a system tray
popup and both packages promptly took care to quarantine the file so it
would not infect my computer. McAfee’s firewall seemed almost overly
aggressive alerting me to most applications that was attempting to
access the internet or run some process on the computer. Thankfully,
once an application is registered as “safe,” it doesn’t have to be
re-register unless it changes. The alerts can be turned off as well.

Trend
Micro’s AntiVirus failed to detect the virus in the test file. If
Windows incessant warning boxes had not popped up, the virus would have
been copied to my computer. The issue had to do with a failure
somewhere in Trend Micro’s scanning engine.  Something called a
“layered service provider” (LSP) failed. A quick jaunt over to
Wikipedia explains what an LSP does. This is the library that inserts
itself between Windows’ TCP/IP stack (the system that handles
communication from the internet to your computer and back) so that it
can monitor traffic and catch potential threats. This failed and had to
be removed. So not only did this failure result in AntiVirus not
detecting the virus in the test file, it also broke my internet
connection. If this were my only machine, I would not be able to get on
the internet for help. It took 30 minutes for me to track down the
issue and fix it. The main problem was that according to the Trend
Micro software, the scanners were running fine and my computers were
protected. Further, after removing the LSP and rebooting, Trend Micro’s
software was unaware that the LSP was uninstalled and reported that the
engines were online and keeping my computer safe. However a quick visit
to the online virus test file proved otherwise: my computer was wide
open for attack.

Help and Support

All three packages offer both offline and
online support. I think both types are important for security
packages—this software can’t rely on online connectivity for help.
Trend Micro’s help system is the clearest and appears to offer the most
with single-click access to their offline help, online help, and online
knowledge base. McAfee’s offering had the most integrated and “on
demand” help system of the three.

Conclusion

Of the latest offerings from three major security software providers, only one doesn’t measure up. McAfee’s VirusScan Plus and BitDefender’s AntiVirus v10 both are a pleasure to use and offer the features you’d expect from a modern security suite.