I drew two conclusions from the outpouring of responses to this week’s Microsoft Challenge. First of all, if you want antivirus software, you have plenty of worthy choices. Second, spelling doesn’t count—at least not when it comes to McAfee, whose name was twisted into a variety of creative misspellings (my favorite was macaffe, which sounds like what you might get if Starbuck’s and McDonald’s were to merge). The Challenge was to find a reliable, easy-to-update antivirus solution that can scale to fit the enterprise and work across multiple server platforms.

And the winners are…
If this were a popularity contest, I could declare Symantec’s Norton AntiVirus Enterprise Solution 4.0 the winner and take the rest of the day off. The Norton family earned a slim plurality of votes, along with an outpouring of positive sentiments like this one, from TechRepublic member dhenderson: “About six months ago we moved to Norton AV Enterprise. This package allows us to place AV updates on one NT server that acts as primary and have the rest of the NT servers automatically updated on the fly. Workstations are also updated, and the same NT primary can feed updates to all the Novell and Exchange boxes. Our cost analysis indicated that 250 workstations was about the price breakpoint to justify this Enterprise package. It has certainly paid for itself already.”

A dozen other NAV users were equally enthusiastic, with kudos for the “spectacular” management tools Symantec provides with the Enterprise Solution. The love-fest wasn’t unanimous, however. Two TechRepublic members told cautionary tales, with rich providing a laundry list of troubles his organization experienced with Norton AntiVirus Corporate Edition 7.0. “The program is very buggy, poorly written, and does NOT work as advertised,” he warns. “You will have administrative nightmares if you use it.”

If you’re lukewarm on Norton, you might consider McAfee’s Active Virus Defense (formerly known as Total Virus Defense). The Network Associates/McAfee corporate Web site is hopelessly disorganized, however, and TechRepublic members handed out plenty of caveats when recommending McAfee solutions. Be prepared for some serious tweaking, says jdroland: “I run McAfee, and although their autoupdate, among many features, is below par, their point-of-truth is excellent and their release is almost always on time. McAfee has an Enterprise console to push the updates out to the clients, which is worth about the same as the cardboard box it came in. I’ve had to create my own KiXtart scripts that run the autoupdate at login; the new dat files will [sometimes] blue-screen some 95/98 clients, or show false messages about corrupted dat files, but after you figure out those types of errors, it runs pretty smoothly with minor babysitting.”

Where do dissatisfied Norton/McAfee users end up? With Computer Associates’ InoculateIT, the network antivirus program originally developed by Cheyenne. TechRepublic members were unanimous in their praise for this package, and the comments of mongon were typical: “My enthusiastic vote goes to InoculateIT. It is ICSA certified for detection of viruses in the wild, has real-time alerting/curing, automatic updates as soon as they are released, is easily configured, and can be integrated into the Web browser. It runs on Windows 95/98/NT, and I currently have their newest version running on 2000 Pro. There are also versions for Windows CE, NetWare, Macintosh, and for use with Lotus Notes. I use InoculateIT PE (Personal Edition) on my laptop, which has free updates as soon as they are issued and a newsletter that thoroughly describes the newest viruses.”

Sophos, Trend Micro, and eSafe also earned enthusiastic recommendations from loyal users. Sophos Sweep, for example, got this thumbs-up from veronica.emery: “It was the only Virus software that we found that could cover all of the platforms that we are running. Their tech support is available 24/7 and is very quick to respond to any questions that you send it. I have used several virus products in the past, and this is the best that I have seen.”

As with most IT issues, the obvious conclusion is that one size does not fit all networks. TechRepublic member mike suggests the most sensible solution: “Contact the AV producers and get them to send you sample [products]. Most will, and then you can see what features you require and even install different products on different systems.”

Sincere thanks to the many folks who took time out to share their experiences this week. Everyone who was quoted in this week’s column earns 2000 TechPoints.

Here’s Ed’s new Challenge
Windows 2000 includes a light version of Executive Software’s Diskeeper defragmentation software. Unfortunately, it has a few limitations, most notably its inability to schedule defrag sessions or optimize data in the Master File Table. Is disk fragmentation really an issue for Windows 2000 users? Should I upgrade to the full version of Diskeeper on workstations and servers? Is Norton’s Speed Disk 5.0 any better? I’m especially interested in hearing about any independent benchmarks you’ve run to measure performance gains and about any hassles you might have encountered when defragging Windows 2000 servers. Click here to tackle this week’s Microsoft Challenge; you can earn up to 2000 TechPoints.