PC Tools Spyware Doctor 5.1 - The Doctor Is In

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PC Tools Spyware Doctor 5.1 for Windows is one of the best anti-spyware applications on the market. PC Tools has learned from its weaknesses found in earlier versions to improve and, according to some other reviews, assume the title as the best anti-spyware solution for Windows users.

PC Tools Spyware Doctor 5.1 for Windows best feature is its usability. It has a simple interface allowing a broad range of skill and comfort among potential users of the product. In addition, it has sufficient depth and granularity to appease more capable users. 

User Interface (5 out of 5)

What’s Hot:
Overall, the PC Tools Spyware Doctor 5.1 for Windows user interface is excellent. It has a clean functional appearance. It is simple enough for basic users but also has a more detailed configuration, under the Settings button, for more confident users.

What’s Not:
The Smart Update button is in an odd place. It would probably be better as a menu button on the left side of the user interface.

Installation & Setup (4 out of 5)

What’s Hot:
Simple installation and setup allows anyone to install PC Tools Spyware Doctor 5.1 for Windows in order to begin protecting their Windows computer from incoming spyware and scan their system for existing malware.

While supported for Windows 2000 and Windows XP, Spyware Doctor 5.1 for Windows is also ready for Windows Vista.

What’s Not:
No, I do not want to install the Google Toolbar or any browser toolbar. There is no need for this to be part of the PC Tools Spyware Doctor 5.1 for Windows installation. [See image 2]

Windows 98 users, should there be any left, will have to use a previous version of PC Tools Spyware Doctor 5.1 for Windows.

Help & Support (4 out of 5)

What’s Hot:
PC Tools Spyware Doctor 5.1 for Windows has a solid web form available for submiting tech support requests. There is a set of frequently asked questions (FAQs) that can be queried by keyword. The FAQs are sorted into categories and users can check if their question is in the top 20 asked questions as well. The tech support site can be found at: https://www.pctools.com/contact/support/product/spyware-doctor/.

There is a Quick Start Guide found under ‘Help,’ but there is also a detailed user guide found online at: https://www.pctools.com/spyware-doctor/help/5.0/.

What’s Not:
There is no initial phone support.

There is no detailed offline help available without manually saving pages from the online user guide site.

Performance (4 out of 5)

What’s Hot:
On a decent workstation, PC Tools Spyware Doctor 5.1 for Windows did not show significant performance issues. Users can continue with their work even as PC Tools Spyware Doctor 5.1 for Windows is scanning their system. I identified five processes running, related to the Spyware Doctor, consuming about 35MB of RAM with the OnGuard features enabled.

What’s Not:
The progress bar shown in the interface during a scan does not relate to time. It seems to be more based on the number of tasks to perform and not how long the process is estimated to take. My full scan sat at 22% completed for several minutes during the file scan and then jumped to completion within a handful of seconds.

Security & Privacy (4 out of 5)

What’s Hot:
To help improve overall security for its customers, PC Tools Spyware Doctor 5.1 for Windows offers a couple of services that send information to PC Tools. First, the Spyware Doctor Network allows users to submit malware information to PC Tools for testing and inclusion in future updates to the spyware database. This is one of the mechanisms PC Tools uses to identify new malware code. This feature is accessed through Settings–>Spyware Doctor Network from the main user interface. Second, there is a more indepth assessment of malware and system status performed by the Malware Detective. This is run manually, and possibly by the request of tech support, to analyze your system and potential malware for submission to PC Tools.

While not evident in the application, the company’s privacy policy is accessible from the company’s main site: https://www.pctools.com/info/privacypolicy/

What’s Not:
Spyware Doctor Network is set to ‘ON’ by default, though it does Prompt for user confirmation before submitting information to the vendor, PC Tools. Users uncomfortable with sending information to the vendor may disable this setting.

Price to Value (5 out of 5)

What’s Hot:
PC Tools Spyware Doctor 5.1 for Windows simply does what it claims for about the same price as its competitors. The value is measured by performance as well as the confidence it gives the user that their workstation is as protected as it can be from spyware, malware, et al.

Product Features (5 out of 5)

What’s Hot:
Good balance of real-time scanning through the set of seven OnGuard features and on demand scanning.

Scans can be scheduled and customized with many different scan types. [See Images 8 and 17]

Real-time ‘OnGuard’ scanners can be independently enabled or disabled.

Global Actions List allows users to include URLs or files that either need to be blocked across the board or allowed. This list overrides what each scanner or Guard feature would do with the item. [See Image 10]

What’s Not:
Reporting is limited to exporting the history log to HTML or running Malware Detective to produce .xml files on the system.

The Keylogger Guard could probably do with a disclaimer stating that it can’t identify hardware-based keyloggers, only keylogger applications.

Protection (4 out of 5)

What’s Hot:
PC Tools Spyware Doctor 5.1 for Windows offers two layers of protection: real-time scanning using its seven-pronged OnGuard feature, and on-demand scanning allowing Full, Custom, and ‘Intelli-scan.’ [See Image 5]

**Real Time Scanning: OnGuard

**There are seven different OnGuard features that can be independently enabled or disabled for real-time protection.

[See Image 4]

  • Browser Guard monitors browser settings and prevents hijacking of those settings, including home page, favorites, and toolbars. [See Image 12]
  • Cookie Guard; if you have cookies enabled, like most of us, Cookie Guard will probably make the most entries to the history log removing advertizing cookies. [See Image 13]
  • File Guard monitors files for malicious content and prevents their access, including inbound email attachments.
  • Keylogger Guard has three levels of sensitivity, and monitors applications that appear to be recording keystrokes. [See Image 14]
  • Network Guard prevents malicious changes to network settings, including HOSTS and LMHOSTS changes. [See Image 15]
  • Processes Guard monitors current processes for malicious applications.
  • Startup Guard monitors the startup folder and related files and registry settings.

Real-time scanning uses toaster popups to identify actions it has taken against suspected malware. [See Image 19]

**On-Demand Spyware Scanning

**There are three levels of on demand scanning with PC Tools Spyware Doctor 5.1 for Windows. [See Image 5]

  • Intelli-scan checks the most likely sources of spyware and malware.

  • Full scan checks all known sources, including a file scan on all drives on the local workstation.

  • Custom scan allows for specific scanner types to be used for a one time or scheduled scan. [See Image 17]

Even with real-time monitoring, it is recommended to perform a full scan at least weekly. Spyware can arrive between database updates. Scans seems much more efficient than earlier versions allowing the user to continue working while a scan is running. Upon completion, PC Tools Spyware Doctor 5.1 for Windows displays a scan summary and logs issues to the history log. [See Images 20 and 9]

**Smart Update
Much like antivirus applications, anti-spyware software is only as good as their supplier’s success at staying current with new spyware information to provide spyware database signature updates on a timely basis. Spyware Doctor does not maintain a set schedule, but rather creates updates to its database as new threats are documented. There may be multiple updates on one day, then no updates for a week. Most users will not need to know what new spyware is covered in each update, but for more interested users, the new spyware added to the database is listed on the PC Tools website. January 2008, for example, is listed here: _https://www.pctools.com/mrc/database/year/2008/month/01/
Updates can be scheduled or engaged manually at any time. The Smart Update wizard will check for updates and allow the user to confirm that they want the updates downloaded and installed. This really must be done right after installation, if the application is expected to perform well. Updates are efficient and easy and show their progress. [See Image 16]

Overall, PC Tools Spyware Doctor 5.1 for Windows proves to be a quality product all around.


Spyware Doctor Installation Start

Option to install Google Toolbar

Main Menu - Select Action

Main Menu - OnGuard Tools

Main Menu - Select Scan

Main Menu - Tools

Main Menu - Settings - General

Scheduled Tasks

History of actions taken

Global Action List for custom entries

Scan Settings

OnGuard for Browser

OnGuard for Cookies

OnGuard for Network

OnGuard for keylogger

Smart Update downloading

Custom Scan - Scanner Types

OnGuard Toaster popup

OnGuard Malicious action warning

Scan Summary

Suggested Features

As an anti-spyware application, I would suggest Spyware Doctor sever ties with Google and stop offering the Google toolbar, even though it is generally not considered spyware, during installation.

The Smart Update feature, which manually updates the Spyware Doctor spyware database could be better positioned in the user interface. Also, database updates are critical. There is a checkbox at installation to update automatically, yet it appears that retrieving new updates is a manual process by default. It should be a daily scheduled task by default. It should also be able to allow scheduled updates more frequently than daily, perhaps down to four hours.

Finally, I think the interface could enjoy a better reporting and presentation display. The history log can be exported to HTML, but users like to see that their security applications are working without having to jump through too many hoops.


PC Tools Spyware Doctor 5.1 for Windows is easy to install, presents a clean, intuitive user interfance, and provides solid protection against spyware threats to Windows-based PCs. A July 2007 review of anti-spyware products, using the GooRoo Spyware Effectiveness Test, rated Spyware Doctor as the best product in what is a crowded market. That article is at:  (https://www.adwarereport.com/mt/archives/spyware_reviews.php).

PC Tools Spyware Doctor 5.1 for Windows combines real-time defense through a series of OnGuard tools for various spyware vectors with on-demand scanning of several Windows components. Its usability and effectiveness in catching and cleaning spyware makes Spyware Doctor a good choice for all levels of Windows users. If I had to buy or recommend an anti-spyware solution, it would be PC Tools Spyware Doctor 5.1 for Windows.

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