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Review: Three Security Suites For The Less-Than-Technical

If your users aren't comfortable with computers, you want a security suite that will keep them safe without scaring them. Here's how McAfee's, Norton's, and Trend Micro's new applications stack up.

If you're a technical support person whose clients include individuals and/or small businesses -- or if you're simply the official support resource for family, friends, and neighbors -- then you'll know that one of the most vital (and neglected) applications is a solid security suite. More often than not, those whose technical know-how is limited to how to cut and paste will neglect to update their security software, decide that a simple virus checker is enough, or forget to put one on their system altogether.

Three Security Suites

•  Introduction

•  McAfee Total Protection

•  Norton Internet Security

•  Trend Micro Internet Security

It's not as though there aren't applications out there for them. Recently, three of the most well-known security software suites -- McAfee, Norton, and Trend Micro -- have been upgraded. Each of these packages offers a variety of common features such as firewall, virus protection, and automatic updates to keep virus definitions current; some provide spam protection or other tools such as cache cleaners.

To help choose which application is best for nontechnical users, I looked at the basics that these suites offer, with an eye toward ease of installation and use, and how complicated they are to understand. I also looked at the type of alarms and error messages they use -- when a user gets a message asking if an IP address is illegitimate, or claiming that the PC is in deep trouble if a certain feature isn't turned on, it's the support person who is going to have to figure things out.

For this purpose, I used a reasonable -- but not high-end -- system that is typical of many users: a Dell Dimension 4600 with a 3.06-GHz Pentium 4 processor and 512 Mbytes RAM.

An interesting note: One of the ways that companies are beginning to compete is with the three-PC license, where purchasing one package enables you to protect up to three computers -- which, considering that many households have at least two or three PCs, is a great marketing tool. In this case, both Trend Micro and Norton included a three-machine license with their basic product; McAfee asks for an additional $20 for its three-PC product.

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