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Avast Free Antivirus

Looking to compete with both paid and free security suites, Avast wants to create a unified approach to your computer security. Long gone are the days of the quirky interface. Avast is accessible and robust, with an impressive list of free features and strong, though hardly stellar, performance benchmarks.

Avast 8 fixes browsers, out-of-date apps

Installation
Avast has improved its installation process so it's faster than before. It's not the fastest on the market, not by a long shot, but a standard installation took us about three minutes -- around the same as last year.

Some items of note during the installation that will come up later in the review: To avoid the Windows 7 and Vista desktop gadget, or the WebRep browser add-on, you must choose the Custom install option and uncheck those here. Firefox and Internet Explorer will all block WebRep from installing by default, but it may be easier for some to cut it off here.

New interface, features capstone Avast 8 (pictures)

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Automatic installation of these features is frowned upon, although Avast does provide a clear method for uninstalling them. It's just not as simple as a check box that gets its own installation window, since you have to go through the Customize menu, which makes the auto-install sort of surreptitious.

Also during the install, you are opted into Google's Drive desktop manager. If you're a Google services addict, this is a good reminder to get the client app. If not, well, it's a small piece of bloatware to uninstall later. Such are the installation blues.

Unlike last year, installing Avast once again requires a reboot. Still, the uninstallation process left no detectable traces on the desktop or in the registry.

One installation option, available only from the custom install menu, lets you sideload Avast as a secondary security program to supplement your main one. We're not big fans of this option from a security point-of-view, because it can bog down your system resources without actually making you safer. However, as a way to see if you like Avast, it's not a bad thing as long as you remember to choose one security suite to go with.

Interface
After three years of nearly identical interfaces, Avast 8 brings an entirely new suit of clothes with it -- sort of.

While the underlying submenus and settings screens look and feel similar, there's a new home screen that emulates the Windows 8 blocky tile-and-icon style. A colored status box on the left lets you know in green or red whether you are secured or not, while six tabs to its right give you access to the suite's security features.

These tabs provide quick access to specific features: Scan, Software Updater, SafeZone, Browser Cleanup, AccessAnywhere, and the Market. With two direct links from the home screen, Avast is really pushing the market idea, which is basically a landing page from which you can purchase additional Avast-branded tools such as a password manager, data backup, or download the free Android and Mac suites.

At the top of the home screen are links to Security, Maintenence, Market, Recommend, and Support. Account and Settings access lives to the far right of them. The Security tab is the most important one, and gives you access to Avast's numerous shields, as well as a list of subcategories on the left nav: antivirus, anti-spam, firewall, software updater, and tools.

Avast's changes its design and its color scheme. While the paid versions retain a dark theme, Avast Free goes back to basic white. The interface across all four versions is now much simpler, with big tiles and easier-to-reach advanced settings.

Avast's changes its design and its color scheme. While the paid versions retain a dark theme, Avast Free goes back to basic white. The interface across all four versions is now much simpler, with big tiles and easier-to-reach advanced settings.

(Credit: Avast)

One smaller but noticeable change is that the free version now decorated with a white background, to separate it from the dark-themed paid upgrades. Yeah, it's a color scheme change, but since most of Avast's customers use the free version, it's a noticeable one.

Overall, the new interface is more user-friendly, and that's a plus. The workflow behind the touch-friendly large icons makes it easier to go directly to key features, such as Avast's popular shields, and much of the jargon has been replaced with more easily understandable terms.

It still runs in Windows 8's desktop mode, so it's not a true Metro-style app, but it has that look.

Features and support
Avast 8, comparable with the 2013 version of competing suites, includes several new features that directly affect your security. Changes to existing Avast features include increasing the number of virus definition file updates per day, from 20 or so in the previous version to more than 70 per day in version 8. When running on battery on laptops, Avast will automatically disable scans until the device is plugged in, and the suite now offers full IPv6 support.

Like both the paid and free competition, Avast has a file reputation system for evaluating downloads. The browser add-on WebRep for on-the-fly site evaluation that also checks for fake site certificates is lighter on your browser than competitors' heavyweight toolbars.

The free version of Avast is arguably the most comprehensive set of freely available security features on the market. There's a reason these guys have more than 170 million active users (at the time this review was written). The antivirus, antispyware, and heuristics engines form a security core that also includes multiple real-time shields. Along with the new features, it's got Sandbox for automatically walling off suspicious programs; a full complement of shields that guard against scripts, P2P networks, instant messaging, and potentially dangerous program behavior; a silent/gaming mode; on-demand boot scanning; and a healthy output of statistics for the data nerds.

Avast's Sandbox, by the way, automatically places programs in a virtualized state when it suspects them of being threats. It walls off suspicious programs, preventing them from potentially damaging your system while allowing them to run. As the program runs, the Sandbox keeps track of which files are opened, created, or renamed, and what it reads and writes from the registry. Permanent changes are virtualized, so when the process terminates itself, the system changes it made will evaporate.

Avast's new browser cleanup tool would've been killer a few years back, but it's still useful for keeping your browser shipshape. It's available in all four versions.



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