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Hot Apps: Spy Sweeper 3.5

While Microsoft AntiSpyware is a hot topic of discussion in the press these days, J.W. Olsen finds nothing in its beta release that threatens his conviction that Spy Sweeper is the best of the bunch.

Anti-virus software publishers were very late to the party in protecting against spyware, which can pop Web ads up on your computer, record and send out personal keystroke data as you type, and slow your system to a shadow of its former self. The current crop of anti-spyware products has finally matured -- and has, in the process, created one of the hotly contested arenas among desktop products.

For some time, Ad-aware led the pack, though Spybot Search & Destroy hit its stride last year. Microsoft, which bought Giant Software last December, has since morphed the Giant AntiSpyware tool into a more Microsoft-like interface. However, while Microsoft AntiSpyware is a hot topic of discussion in the press these days, I found nothing in its beta release that threatens my conviction that Spy Sweeper is the best of the bunch.


Click on image to expand.
What's so good about Spy Sweeper? Start with its remarkable speed that doesn't sacrificing thorough scanning. Competitors can take so much time that I don't use them as often as I should. After completing its assigned task, Spy Sweeper's results screen appeared so fast that I thought it must be some sort of error message.

Spy Sweeper even proactively checked an executable file on a CD-ROM that I had neglected to remove. The application correctly identified and offered to remove nine spyware meanies on a test system that I keep in nearly pristine condition. None was a false positive, a problem I've found with competing products.

Clear On Spyware
But the two most crucial features are frequency of spyware definition file updates and clear explanations of spyware objects. Like anti-virus software, anti-spyware utilities are only as good as their latest definition or signature files. According to Spy Sweeper's publisher, it has provided 23 updates in the last 12 or 13 weeks. Meanwhile, my own informal checks for its competitors in recent months suggest that competitors Spybot and Ad-aware provide updates significantly less frequently.

In addition, Spy Sweeper easily provides the clearest explanation of each potential spyware object that it identifies. It also includes links to more detailed information from an online database.

Two tips for Spy Sweepers users: First, Webroot, Spy Sweeper's publisher, offers a free online anti-spyware checker. Don't bother with it. It is uncomfortably short on specific details and, unlike similar offerings by some anti-virus publishers, offers no fixes for infections that are found. If the intent of the online checker is to induce you to buy the product, it should offer more.

Secondly, no anti-spyware product is perfect. My recommendation is to use Spy Sweeper for daily checks and occasionally use one of the slower, free competitors.

Spy Sweeper 3.5
Webroot Software, Inc.
Price: $29.95 (one-year subscription)
www.webroot.com

J.W. Olsen has served as author, editor, and freelance book project manager for more than 1000 editorial assignments for IT publishers since 1990 and has provided computer services to clients since 1985. He welcomes feedback via the email response form at www.jwolsen.com.

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