BitDefender AntiVirus 10 - Cool User Interface, But What About Under the Hood?

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Far too many software suites need to go on a diet. Software houses try to pack in feature after seldom-used feature in order to convince the customer to buy their product over others. While customers may technically be “getting more for their money,” they may end up actually losing in the long run if they use only a small percentage of the features, as the package takes up disk space that could be better applied to other things.   BitDefender doesn’t suffer from feature bloat. It is a targeted package that does a few things but does them well. The package includes a virus scanner and an anti-spyware scanner that both offer a deep set of features wrapped around a clean and accessible user interface.   With a relatively small disk and memory footprint, BitDefender is the package of choice for those who want a compact package that does its job well.

Price to Value (4 out of 5)

What’s Hot:

For users looking to purchase a security toolkit that just takes care of viruses and spyware, BitDefender Antivirus will deliver. The product can be had for around $35 (average price), and for the money customers will get what they pay for. For a little bit more money, other packages offer quite a bit more in their suites, but I suspect that many customers will never use the “extras” and will just end up wasting disk space. With BitDefender, you get what you pay for.

What’s Not:

In modern security suites, I think many users expect to see tight integration with online services and a firewall. BitDefender offers neither.

Installation & Setup (4 out of 5)

What’s Hot:

Installation is smooth and relatively quick. The installer is a standard MSI (Microsoft Installer) based program that runs the customer through a wizard. The uninstaller has to be run from Add/Remove programs and cannot be started by rerunning the setup.

Before the installer wrote anything to my hard drive, it checked for a newer version and offered to download it [bitdefender_install_newversion.jpg]. I liked this. I’d rather have the latest version of the installer run the first time rather than having to install, download an update, and reinstall. The installer also updates the scanning engines during initial setup. [bitdefender_install_initialsetupwizard_updateengine.jpg]

The overall installation wrote approximately 59 MB to my hard drive and created 479 registry keys. The uninstaller removed everything it wrote to the disk but left behind about 15 registry keys. The user is given the option to register during setup and is also given privacy information. The installer and uninstaller require a reboot.

What’s Not:

Perfect installers will always clean up after themselves and shouldn’t require a reboot. Because of the tight integration with the operating system, I understand why BitDefender requires a reboot, but I think installation engineers should work with Microsoft to figure out a way to avoid reboots.

Product Features (4 out of 5)

What’s Hot:

BitDefender Antivirus is targeted. It is a virus and spyware scanner and not much else. It offers no firewall, little integration with online services (other than an update service), and no system tools. While this might appear to be a negative, I appreciate the fact that BitDefender chose not to install a suite of tools that I most likely will never use. Windows comes with an adequate firewall for most users, and if I need to tweak system settings, I’ll do that through Windows as well. The power user shouldn’t shy away from BitDefender. The two primary tools are rich and offer enough customization  to satisfy most tweakers.

BitDefender AntiVirus version 10 includes two main security applications: virus protection and spyware protection. Windows Security Center detects BitDefender and the package integrates with Security Center without issue. [bitdefender_security_center_integration.JPG]

This version of BitDefender does not include a firewall, so users will have to depend on Windows’ adequate firewall or purchase a separate product.

The degree to which each scanner will attempt to find problems (BitDefender calls this the “protection level”) are set to “Default” at install time but can easily be changed to any level between “Aggressive” or “Permissive” by using a slider. The interface for each scanner shows recent scanning activity and settings.

I really like the fact that BitDefender exposes the work its doing. Applications that work in the background but directly affect other work being done on the computer should give users a way to view those background processes in case of issues. BitDefender does that well both with the application-based audit system and the scan activity bar. Scheduled scans can be done easily and with plenty of customization through the task scheduler. [bitdefender_scheduler.JPG]

What’s Not:

BitDefender doesn’t offer a lot of integration with system tools or online services, as can be found in other packages (notably McAfee VirusScan 2007). It does provide an interface for changing system settings (which oddly has been placed off of the Antispyware tab) but this seems a bit out of place for this application (a button that launches Windows’ system configuration utility seems more appropriate). I found no real integration with any online features other than the update feature. While I’m not advocating integrating an application with online services just because it can now easily be done (and because everyone else is doing it), it does seem appropriate for a security suite to be have a subset of features that are tightly integrated with online services to provide realtime virus and malware information, help track virus activity, and download scanning signatures in realtime (this last service, BitDefender offers). Of course, going and staying offline should be easy to do, but an online component seems appropriate for packages like this. Online integration can provide customers with realtime information and data and BitDefender does this only marginally.

User Interface (5 out of 5)

What’s Hot:

I’ll discuss BitDefender’s user interface in terms of two main components: first, the main application, which is the primary component of BitDefender and where most of the modifications and activity are done. Second, the taskbar icon provides another view into the security suite and offers some healthy right-click functionality. I’ll also mention that BitDefender has a unique “activity bar” that graphically shows the current scanning state of the files on your system. This unobtrusively sits on your desktop and can help you monitor activity spikes and alert you to potential issues.

Main Application
The main application interface is not flashy but well laid out and very accessible. It’s a custom interface (it doesn’t appear to use standard Windows dialog boxes), which probably provides consistency across versions of Windows and custom user desktops. I prefer the clean, approachable design to other security packages I’ve tested. [bitdefender_user_interface_main.JPG]

The interface uses a tab metaphor and the designers made it very easy to determine where you are at any place in application. Like other modern security suites, the BitDefender UI places the most-used features at the entry point of the UI. When the application is opened, users can perform a system scan, update the software, and modify the security level without having to click to another screen.

Each section has plenty of help text as well, so you know what you’re looking at and what each item does. Additionally, the product provides a sidebar for each section with more help information and a link at the bottom of each sidebar that opens the BitDefender help file with even more assistance. The help system is built on the older CHM-style help, which means it’s available offline and fully searchable. The downside is that the content isn’t dynamically updated.

The UI is divided into four main sections accessed by tabs along the left-hand side: General, Antivirus, Antispyware, and Update. Clicking these tabs accesses features related to those functional areas. Sub-features are available by way of tabs located along the top of the section interface. The interface doesn’t create new dialog boxes for most items, so its difficult to get lost and lose track of what you’re doing or where you are.

The colors used in the interface are near-perfect. The designers used high contrast so that the tabs stand out. The colors are pleasant and create a very nice layering effect that is easy on the eyes. Kudos to the designers! This is a model of fine UI design that other packages should study.

Taskbar Icon
I was pleased to see BitDefender implement a strong use of the taskbar. Right-clicking the taskbar icon provides quick access to the main features of the four sections noted above in the main application. Users can turn off realtime scanning or initiate a system scan from the tray icon. The only feature the icon lacks is the ability to pause all scanning for a limited duration with a single click. Realtime scanning has to be turned off for each scanner (virus and spyware) separately, and has to be re-enabled manually. BitDefender can be closed or shut down from the taskbar and help is available from the icon as well.

**BitDefender uses pop-ups located near the system tray to alert users to issues. Because it doesn’t contain a firewall, I wasn’t alerted nearly as often as I am in other products. The pop-up window is large and clear and isn’t accompanied by any audible cues. I would prefer the option of including an audio cue, but the lack of one isn’t an issue for my preferences.

Performance (4 out of 5)

What’s Hot:

I’m always concerned security software will bring my otherwise robust PC to its knees. Scanners generally touch every file being loaded and passed over the network, and this can potentially mean a huge performance hit.

I ran some non-scientific tests to evaluate whether the scanning software negatively affected 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 21 MB files over my home network from the local machine (on which McAfee would be installed) to a network share. The second test copied 300 8 KB 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 the tests on a 2.2 GHz Celeron, 1 GB RAM, Windows XP SP2 machine with all the latest service packs. I ran each test five times. Here are the results:

Test 1 - Large files.
Without scanners: average transfer time of 15942ms.
With scanners: average transfer time of 16043ms.

Test 2 - Small files.
Without scanners: average transfer time of 4721ms.
With scanners: average transfer time of 7964ms.

Test 3 - Web sites
Without scanners: average transfer time of 7061ms.
With scanners: average transfer time of 4968ms.

Given the variability of network conditions and operating system processes, the differences in the first and last tests are statistically insignificant (in fact, the web browsing test actually showed an increase in performance). The differences in the small files test raised some concern, though. On average, it took almost two times longer to transfer many smaller files with the scanners on than it did with them off. I had a similar experience earlier in the year with BitDefender on my Windows Vista machine. I had to uninstall the product due to performance problems mainly with web browsing but also with general file transfers. Of course, this may or may not represent real-world behavior, but the purpose of my tests was to see if the scanners would cause an immediate and obvious drop in performance doing some basic tasks. Due to the potential performance hit, interested readers may want to download a trial version and do some real-world testing before committing to a purchase.

Security & Privacy (4 out of 5)

What’s Hot:

It is not the intent of this review to go deep into the detection capabilities of this package. For a solid, lab-tested review of BitDefender’s capabilities, see this Consumer Reports review of the product (requires subscription). In the modest testing I did, BitDefender detected security breaches as expected.

All infected file detections and major events are captured in the events log, which is available from the General tab. [bitdefender_events_log.JPG]

Help & Support (4 out of 5)

What’s Hot:

The help system for BitDefender is in the old-style CHM (Microsoft Compiled Help) format. This means help will be available offline, relatively fast, and entirely searchable. Of course, it also means that any updates to help and support content will have to be accessed from the BitDefender website. For my preferences, this is the way it should be.

Suggested Features

BitDefender AntiVirus should provide a way for users to turn off all scanners with a single mouse click from the tray icon. Another welcome addition would be the ability to have the scanners automatically re-enabled after a specific time has elapsed. I’d also like to see more integration with online services.


Overall, BitDefender Antivirus version 10 is a modest but solid package sporting one of the better user interfaces of the security suites I’ve looked at. Its overall performance is acceptable and the software delivers on what it promises. I recommend it for users who are looking for straightforward, richly apportioned tools that do their job well without a lot of extras.

Norton Antivirus, McAfee Antivirus, Microsoft OneCare, Trend Micro Internet Security, Computer Associates Internet Security