Antivirus refers to software that finds and removes viruses from a computer. Some software combine the services of antivirus and anti-malware, but not all. For example Malwarebytes Anti-Malware provides excellent anti-malware services but doesn’t detect classic viruses well. McAfee and Norton Antivirus to a good job with viruses, but not malware.

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A picture of AVG PC Tuneup in action.

PC TuneUp Software: Great in Theory, Awful in Practice

This is a story about automated PC TuneUp software and how it can go horribly wrong.

Background

A client brought me 4 new PC’s to setup at his business.  This involves completing the Windows setup wizard, installing his software, porting over his data, updating, and setting up security.  In this instance the client bought his own antivirus: AVG Zen Protection, which comes with AVG’s PC TuneUp.

AVG PC TuneUp and products like it function similarly: analyze your computer, find ways to free up resource and make it faster, and implement them more or less automatically.

That all sounds great. PC’s do need regular maintenance. The promise of software like PC Tune-Up is that it will act as a mechanic who shows up and changes your oil and checks your filters  without ever being asked.  That’s fantastic. Until it’s not.

The PC TuneUp Problem

After installing AVG with PC TuneUp, the software went to work trying to determine how badly this brand new computer needed optimized. It found things.  So many things. Out of sheer curiosity I actually allowed it to implement the solutions it recommended on one of the 4 PC’s.

It felt no faster.  But it did render the application the client depends on to do  business totally unusable.  PC TuneUp tries to be helpful by creating a restore point.  I rolled back to the restore point and the application still wouldn’t run.

The problem was caused by the fact that PC TuneUp had disabled one of it’s services. When I went to re-enable the service, I found that it wasn’t being disabled the standard way, so using the Windows Services console to start the service failed. In the end I ended up removing PC TuneUp completely.  If that’s how it’s going to behave, I certainly can’t send it into production.

The Bottom Line on PC TuneUp

I’m not writing to talk smack on the entire AVG product line. I still use AVG for antivirus. But PC maintenance is best left to folks that understand the implications of their actions.  PC TuneUp and products like it take a shotgun approach to optimization: they try to intelligently determine what programs and services can safely be disabled, but it’s safe to say PC TuneUp isn’t running Ex Machina level artificial intelligence because it seems to have no problem erring on the side of disabling things you need.

So if your computer is slow, don’t choose some automated optimization tool like PC TuneUp that errs on the side of speed, not safety. Call a professional.

How Long do you Try Repairing Before Reformatting?

As a small-time computer consultant I’ve dealt with dozens of customers who bring me computers loaded with viruses and spyware.  I’m of the school of thought that a reformat is never neccessary, that–given enough work–any infestation can be overcome.  But there is a point of diminishing returns, and I’d like to know where others think that point lies.

I’ve arbitrarily decided that at my current rates it’s no longer worth my customer’s hard-earned money to try and root out an infestation beyond two hours of labor. After that I suggest a reformat.  Where do you draw the line?

A Word About Total Protection Software

My friend Dan over at Outsmart Technology wrote a fantastic article about choosing the right antivirus package. As a followup to Dan’s article and my own article yesterday explaining what a virus is and how your computer actually becomes infected, I wanted to voice my opinion about so-called “total protection” packages being sold by the top names in personal computer security. That opinion is, stated bluntly, that their software is bloated, junky, and not worth your money.

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Computer Viruses Explained

It happens at least once a week: a client, friend, or relative calls me in a panic and proceeds to explain, often in colorful terms, that their computer is acting strangely and they’re afraid that they’ve caught a virus. I listen calmly, then make a trip to their home or business to diagnose the problem for myself. In my experience one, maybe two of these calls out of ten actually result in the discovery of a real virus. Admittedly that’s only part of the story, so before you start thinking that viruses aren’t a threat to your PC, let me explain.

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