Virex is out, Virex is in

by Francois Joseph de Kermadec

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As most .Mac members now know, McAfee recently released a new version of Virex, called (unsurprisingly) Virex 7.5. Under this simple version change hides a profound transformation though: the previously effective but slightly rustic application now features weekly eUpdates and background scanning, two much asked for features.

I have played a bit with the new Virex and thought that I should share my observations with those of you who might be interested.

First of all, allow me to say that I have always been a Virex fan. Of course, it is not perfect but, when considering the harm that a few competitive applications can do, I am ready to sacrifice a few features for a more effective and less intrusive engine. Despite my positive feelings for the technology though, I had to admit that McAfee probably did not invest too much into the product as a whole, releasing an application that has always felt slightly rough around the edges and lacked some help files or documentation -- which is never too good for an anti-virus application.

Virex 7.5 solves many of my previous concerns : it is obvious that some work went into the interface that remains "light" (compared to competitors) but pleasant to look at, and provides a much more Mac-like experience by providing timely feedback to its user. It also roughly follows the Apple-provided guidelines which, coming from McAfee surprised me quite a lot!

The paper documentation has also been entirely rewritten and localized (I had a quick look at the French files and they appear well written), which will be of a great help to new users. Getting started with Virex is now easy to do and users who need help with an issue will find a shoulder to lean on -- it would be even better if error messages weren't cryptic but some could argue that this cryptic side is part of the anti-virus experience.

Technologically speaking, one can only welcome the introduction of background scanning as well as active scanning (which takes care of inspecting files as they are scanned to the disk). Scanning mounted volumes can also be a good idea and the new Virex takes care of that beautifully as well.

During my tests with an EICAR file, Virex reacted every time, warning me that it had found it. It was also surprisingly quick at detecting it as I download a zipped version of it from a web site, which makes me think that scanning has been improved over the previous versions and is now even more effective.

There are of course a few negative sides to this new release that I wish I did not have to see. My main concern is that the background scanning system is quite rustic itself and can take up some unneeded resources -- nothing worrying but I wouldn't call it "low resource" like the user manual. The modular structure of the system mitigates the negatives though and allows the application to fail and relaunch itself a lot more graciously -- scanning processes were restarted every time I tried to kill them.

Some embarrassing over-zealous cleaning operations were reported with the beta (and I experienced them myself) but, so far, I haven't seen that happening again. According to the release notes, the Virex engineers luckily took care of these issues. [Update:] I have received some conflicting reports on this one so, for now, I'd recommend setting up Virex so that it doesn't delete anything automatically but just notifies you. That way, you'll be able to deal with issues on a case-by-case basis.

Interface-wise, I am not too enthusiastic about the appearance of a separate "Virex Schedule Editor" utility. whose functionalities could have been integrated with the main Virex application itself. This is only in line with the Windows version of Virex and pretty much every other anti-virus system I know, though, so I guess I am the only one who does not appreciate the benefits of this dual system.

What worries me more though is the remaining roughness around the edges, interface and help-wise. For example, the Help Center-based help has been entirely rewritten but its antiquated Windows-like structure remains, which shows that some people inside the development team do not pay too much attention to detail or are not given the necessary resources to do so -- unfortunately, time and money constraints often get in the way of engineers, even at the best companies.

All in all, I am very satisfied by what I have seen of Virex so far and am glad that McAfee continues improving this application. It is a great evolution on Virex 7.2 and gives me good hopes to see Virex turn into a star Mac OS X product in the near future (provided that the team keeps up the good work). For having used many anti-virus products, I have to say that Virex remains my favorite. I am glad so far to see that Apple provides .Mac members with it and all the necessary updates.

Until next time, dear Mac users, enjoy thinking different!

P.S. : May student switchers receive all my best wishes for this soon-to-begin academic year!

And you, what are your experiences with Virex?


2004-08-25 00:04:35
/sw gone?
Just a quick question, but has Virex now sorted out the problems with /sw and fink users? In the past I believe the Virex people were using some open software and placed it in /sw which caused problems with Fink.

I'll probably find out myselg soon enough but just thought I'd ask.

2004-08-25 00:33:37
/sw gone?

First of all, thanks for taking the time to post, I really do appreciate it!

If memory serves well, I think that the /sw issue was solved by the last Virex 7.2 update. I am currently using both Virex and Fink on some of my Macs without any issue.

Note though that this is just a "home test" and that it's difficult to give a definite answer without having a look at your installation...

Let me know if this helps!