Vendor-induced paranoia aside, the reality of today’s Net-connected world is that every networked computerMac and PC alikeis susceptible to viruses. Even careful computer users may have sloppy friends who unwittingly propagate malicious wares. Consequently, antiviral software is a necessity. For most Mac users, this means Symantec’s Norton AntiVirus (NAV), currently the only credible antivirus software for the Mac.
Where’s the Info?
NAV’s poorly designed main window doesn’t convey useful information during a scan. It offers no indication of which file it’s scanning or how many files remain.
Although it remains a solid protection tool, the latest incarnationNAV 6.0.1is a ho-hum upgrade. The main addition, LiveUpdate, automatically downloads software updates and information about new viruses, vastly improving on the automated updating feature in the previous version. Otherwise, little has changed since NAV 5.0 (see
, March 1999).
NAV 6.0.1 consists of the main application, an autoprotect extension, and the new LiveUpdate utility. The extension, which scans your system for potential viruses, behaves just as in previous versions. You can configure it to scan incoming files and alert you if it detects any suspicious activity; otherwise it lies relatively dormant. You also need the extension if you want to perform scheduled virus scans.
Unfortunately, the autoprotect extension is not a viable option for servers. Virus scans slightly slow overall server performance, and an alert stops an entire Mac system in its tracksthis may be useful on a typical desktop Mac, but it’s lethal in a server environment. Considering the large numbers of AppleShare servers sold over the years and the various e-mail and Web-server packages available for Mac OS, it’s surprising that Symantec provides no Mac server support.
Like the autoprotect extension, the main NAV application remains largely unchanged. Although this version does have some under-the-hood performance improvements, the user interface is really showing its age. For example, when you’re scanning a Mac system, NAV offers no useful feedback: the status bar marches from left to right, but you can’t tell which file or folder the software is scanning or when it might be finished.
NAV’s handling of compressed files is especially opaque. The program skips compressed files when it encounters them and then scans them all at the end of the process. If you interpret a full status bar as meaning the program is done scanning, you could be in for a rude surprise if you have many large archives on your disk.
Finally, NAV’s QuickScan, which speeds performance by skipping previously scanned files, doesn’t recognize previously scanned archives. Instead of skipping the archives, as it does with uncompressed files, QuickScan scans all of them each time.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
With NAV’s primary competitor, Dr. Solomon’s Virex, apparently in limbo, NAV is the only reputable Mac antivirus package, and Symantec seems to know this. Instead of adding innovation, Symantec took the conservative approach and made only modest changes to the previous version. That said, NAV 6.0.1 is a solid package backed by a respected antivirus-research organization. The one-year subscription to virus-information updates, coupled with the new LiveUpdate feature, makes it a worthwhile addition to every utility set. We just wish Symantec would make this a more usable package.