Viral Marketing


Q. My PC came with a trial version of McAfee VirusScan. Now that the 90-day freebie period is close to through, I’m wondering whether I should pay up to continue with McAfee, or opt for Norton AntiVirus. Is there any real difference between the two?

A. Ordinarily, Mr. Roboto would dismiss any discussion of the McAfee-Norton throwdown as truly tiresome. They both work all right, despite some obvious warts, and the differences are pretty mundane. But let’s take a look at the “rivalry” nonetheless, as a means to opening your eyes to a powerful alternative — the Royal Crown Cola of the antivirus software world, as it were.

The foremost problem with McAfee VirusScan is that it takes too long to sift through your hard drive in search of pathogens. Norton AntiVirus, meanwhile, tends to drag down your system’s performance. Between the two, Mr. Roboto leans toward AntiVirus, based on the benchmark performance tests conducted by and Virus Bulletin. According to the latest scores, Norton’s antiviral flagship does a slightly better job of sussing out worms. So if your choice were to come down to VirusScan and AntiVirus, the latter should get your vote.

But given AntiVirus’s price, heck, you’d think the Norton gang believed every other PC owner was a dang millionaire. It retails for $50, but that includes only 12 months of protection updates. After that, you’ve got to pony up around $30 a year to keep the product software relevant. If you don’t ante, you might as well have a unicorn guarding your machine. One penny-pinching tactic is to check out Microsoft’s “Protect Your PC” website. Click through to Step 3, where you’ll find such deals as 12 free months of Computer Associates eTrust EZ Armor (which, admittedly, Mr. Roboto has yet to test), or 35 percent off McAfee VirusScan.

But the site’s best deal is $20 off Trend Micro’s PC-cillin Internet Security — yes, the digital RC Cola that Mr. Roboto alluded to up top — which lumps together antivirus protection, anti-spam filtering, a firewall, and a spyware monitor. (Sure, Norton AntiVirus has a spyware removal tool too, but it blows.) Mr. Roboto had some bad run-ins with PC-cillin 2000, but the latest all-in-one version has made him a convert. The software automatically checks for virus pattern updates eight times daily, so you won’t get snookered by the hot new worm. Better still, it works perfectly well with Web-based e-mail accounts like Hotmail, something that its competitors have never seemed to get quite right.

Lastly, Trend Micro is currently throwing in a year’s worth of phone tech support with every PC-cillin purchase, while the equivalent privilege from Symantec, the vendor of Norton AntiVirus, will run you $3 a minute, or a $30 flat fee. Maybe you’ll never need a midnight hint from Bangalore techies, but it’s nice to know they’re out there nonetheless.

Packing heat

Keeping on the antivirus tip, let Mr. Roboto offer a few words of caution about installing Windows Service Packs. You know that warning that inveighs against the dangers of keeping your antivirus software switched on while you’re installing a pack? To paraphrase Rakim, that ain’t no joke. For the umpteenth time this week, a reader wrote in complaining of a slow-as-molasses machine after installing XP Service Pack 1. Yet again, a failure to switch off antivirus software was the culprit. The correct fix is to start over from square one; never try to uninstall any of the “hotfixes” listed in the Add/Remove Programs section of Control Panel. You’ll just end up deleting a critical driver and crashing your entire system.

Holy code

On a lighter note, Mr. Roboto wants to follow up on his recommendation of a few weeks back. Revisiting the deliciously satiric site recently, he noticed a hyperlink to yet another humor haven, Aside from the rip-roaring gallery of funny-cuz-they’re-real church signs — “Friends Don’t Let Friends Go to Hell” — there’s also source code for concocting your very own Photoshopped signs. Be the first website administrator to post a “Jesus saves, but Mr. Roboto rocks” faux church sign. Come on, all the cool kids are doing it.