AVG Internet Security 2011, which shipped on Tuesday, offers the full complement of tools you'd expect in an all-in-one security suite, packaged in a simple-to-use interface and offering integration with popular browsers and Outlook. But the software is marred by annoying attempts to upsell you to other products, and a scanning engine that may slow down your system.
AVG is aimed at those looking for a do-it-all piece of software, offering anti-virus, anti-spyware, a rootkit detector and killer, firewall, link scanner, online shield, e-mail scanner, identity protection, spam killer and more. A one-year subscription for a single computer sells for $55, a two-year subscription for $82 -- and there are also discounts for up to 10 computers.
It uses a "just-the-facts-ma'am" main interface for accessing all of those modules, in which a single screen displays a black-and-white icon for each. Each active module has a green check next to it, so that you know it's turned on and working properly. Most of the time, however, you won't see the main interface, because the modules do their work in the background. You'll only need to access it to change a setting.
But although the interface itself is straightforward, the software uses wording that may confuse you. To turn off a module, for example, you right-click its icon and choose "Ignore the state of this component." Similarly, when you delve into the software's advanced settings, you'll find yourself occasionally scratching your head. What does it mean to "certify" incoming and outgoing mail, for example, and how does that differ from merely checking incoming and outgoing e-mail for viruses and other threats? The program, and its help file, offers no guidance.
On the plus side, however, those who like to configure their own security settings will find a wealth of options to tweak, all available from a single, straightforward advanced settings screen.
The modules in AVG work in much the same way as modules in similar suites. The firewall, for example, comes pre-configured to allow well-known applications such as browsers and e-mail software gain access to the Internet. When you use software that AVG doesn't already know is safe, a notification pops up asking whether you want to allow the application to access the Internet, and if so, whether to allow it just this one time or permanently. You can also tell the firewall whether to allow the application to access the Internet on every network you use (home, work, Wi-Fi hot spots and so on) or only on networks known to be safe -- an especially useful feature.
Similarly when the anti-virus module comes across what it perceives as threats, it notifies you and moves the offending software to a vault, where the software is disabled. You can leave the software in the vault, or else delete it or restore it if you decide the software is safe.
I found AVG's initial scan to be painfully slow, taking more than three hours. During the time the scan was being performed, it also slowed down my system and the operation of other applications. In later scans, I set the priority of the scan to be low, but even when I did that, it affected system performance.
E-mail attachment checking and anti-spam functions integrate into e-mail applications, including Outlook and any application that uses POP3, IMAP or SMTP. I tried it with Outlook and didn't find the anti-spam feature any more or less effective than the one already built into Outlook, although it did seem to err very slightly on the side of identifying too many legitimate messages as spam.
The software's System Tools module, which shows you all of your currently running processes, network connections, browser extensions and software that runs on startup, is somewhat useful. But the module is bare-bones and offers no help. For example, it shows the names of files that run on startup, but doesn't explain what they do, or whether they can be safely removed from startup.
Beware of upsells
AVG's link scanner installs as a toolbar into the Microsoft Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox browsers and reports whether the page you're currently visiting is safe. But the toolbar also has a Yahoo search box and link to Yahoo Weather, which has nothing to do with keeping you secure and everything to do with whatever business relationship AVG has forged with Yahoo. In fact, during the installation process, your default search provider will be changed to Yahoo unless you uncheck the box that does that.
At a Glance
AVG Internet Security 2011
Price: 1 computer: $55 (1 year), $82 (2 years). 3 computers: $69 (1 year), $103 (2 years). Other packages available.
Installing unnecessary Yahoo features is annoying enough, but even worse is the way in which AVG tries to sell you other services, in what almost feels at times like a bait-and-switch scheme. For example, the main AVG screen shows a PC Analyzer module. Click the icon and it will check your Registry, check your hard disk to see if it is defragmented, check for broken shortcuts and see whether you have "junk files" that can be deleted to free up hard disk space. However, when you tell it to fix the problems, you are sent to a Web page that offers a download that will do the fix for a single time -- the next time you use it, you'll have to pay an annual fee of $29.99.
I also found the results of the PC Analyzer somewhat suspect, and wondered whether it overstated the severity of the problems that existed on my system. It reported that I had 677 Registry errors, even though RegistryBooster 2010 reported 25 Registry errors, Lavasoft Registry Tuner reported 21 Registry errors and CCleaner reported eight Registry errors.
AVG Internet Security 2011 offers all the modules you would expect in a comprehensive protection suite, but its annoying habit of trying to sell you additional services, and its tendency to slow your system down during anti-virus scans, make this software less useful than it otherwise would be.
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This story, "Review: AVG Internet Security 2011" was originally published by Computerworld.