In the past, BitDefender has suffered from something of an identity crisis: in the beginning, its highly customizable settings made it a sleeper hit among techies. Then, in an effort to court more mainstream users, it simplified its user interface, angering some of its early adopters. When it tried to make amends, its UI suddenly seemed complicated again (see our review of BitDefender Total Security 2009). With BitDefender Total Security 2010, however, the company aims to please everyone: users can specify, essentially, how tech-savvy they are, and the UI will adjust itself accordingly. The feature set is designed to be all-encompassing, too: in addition to antivirus and malware protection, BitDefender includes identity theft protection, parental controls, tune-up utilities, and 2GB of online storage. While the suite remains king when it comes to manual features, the interface could still use some streamlining—and a slight price drop wouldn’t hurt, either.
Installation and Setup
At the beginning of our installation, Total Security 2010 searched the computer for existing security software (we didn’t have any, but if we did it would have suggested we remove it, and would have provided a simple interface from which to do so). Installing the large 600MB program on our Toshiba Tecra M10 took 2 minutes, but before the installation process began, our (sluggish) computer took 10 minutes to install Microsoft .NET Framework Version 1.1.
After all this was done (12 minutes in total), we had to restart the computer, something Symantec and Trend Micro’s offerings did not require us to do. Once our system had rebooted, a screen prompted us to choose what kind of network the computer was connected to (either home/office, or a public/university network). During this time, we were also asked to enter a license key. Meanwhile, we saw a pop-up in our system tray (a firewall alert) when checked our Gmail account in Internet Explorer.
When you run BitDefender Total Security 2010 for the first time, you’ll be asked to choose a user profile, defining how tech-savvy you are and how many custom settings should be readily accessible from the main screen. Profiles include Typical, a default UI for novice and intermediate users; Parent, which also highlights parental controls; Gamer, which includes more advanced options and also minimizes the performance impact while playing a game; and Custom, for advanced users who thrive on tweaking their applications’ settings. You can change your profile at any time by clicking the Settings link at the top of the page.
As you continue through the setup wizard, you’ll not only pick a profile type, but specify if you’re using a notebook (so that the program can automatically enable laptop mode, which defers unnecessary activity until the computer is plugged in). You’ll also be given the option of setting a time for a daily scan, as well as running one when the wizard completes.
BitDefender also asks you to choose one of three interfaces: novice, intermediate, or expert. This seems redundant, since the whole point of having user profiles (gamers, parents, typical and custom users) is that each type of user would prefer a different level of simplicity. Although the tabbed interface is pretty self-explanatory, it’s not as slick or easy to use as Symantec Norton 360’s—but then again, Norton 360 has frustratingly few advanced settings, so at least BitDefender offers more variety.
One last note about the UI: there’s a lot of popups. We mean that in two ways: one, it’s not a self-contained interface. When you open something from the main screen (say, a tuneup utility) it will open in a separate window. You could easily end up with three or four open windows in your taskbar without even trying. But BitDefender also spat out popups from our system tray. One was the firewall alert we got just after setting up the program, and we got another when we plugged in a USB drive. Fortunately, you can check a box (in the popup, of course) to halt the deliver of popups in similar situations.
In addition to typical virus and malware protection functions, Total Security 2010 offers IM encryption, a firewall, and home network protection. Meanwhile, its File Vault stores, encrypts, and password-protects whatever information you like—a standard feature in security suites nowadays. The vault has a Windows Explorer interface, both when you add and review files, and users can create and name multiple vaults. Setting one up could be easier, though; you have to specify the drive letter for the vault, as well as its size in megabytes.
BitDefender Total Security 2010’s parental controls, which are particularly prominent in the Parent user profile but available to all users, allow parents to monitor the Web sites their children visit and receive activity reports via e-mail. There are three age settings: adult, child, and teenager, but these categories don’t stop you from customizing every detail, such as the times individual users are allowed to access certain applications and the Internet, and which Web sites they can and can’t visit.
For the most part, the parental controls are easy to navigate. A tabbed interface distinguishes between, say, applications and blocked keywords. It doesn’t change between the novice and intermediate interfaces; novices will be greeted by a simpler screen, but they’ll ultimately have to click through to the same tabbed settings interface as intermediate users if they want to enable and customize the various parental control features (these features, such as keyword blocking, must be turned on manually). The only gripe we have about the parental controls interface is that we think some users might be confused by the fact that you have to enter an outgoing mail server when setting up activity alerts.
Like other security suites, BitDefender also allows parents to block certain applications (e.g., IM and video games) at certain times of the day (say, between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m., when kids should be doing homework). The program is also unique in that parents can even go so far as to block keywords (in e-mail, IM, and search engines), and certain instant messaging users. Parents can also block certain kinds of Web sites altogether, such as gambling, hate sites, online dating, online payment, pornography, and social networking. Additionally, parents can block any individual sites they deem questionable.
According to a rep from BitDefender, a security program’s effectiveness and thoroughness should take priority over its speed. In other words, it doesn’t claim to run the fastest virus scans or have the most minimal performance impact. That said, Total Security 2010 didn’t slow down our computer’s performance much. Before we installed the program, our Tecra M10 took 1, 4, 1, and 2 seconds to open Google Picasa, Internet Explorer, iTunes, and Microsoft Word, respectively. While running a virus scan, this time rose slightly to 5, 4, 3, and 5 seconds. That’s one of the lowest performance impacts we’ve seen with a security suite; while Trend Micro Internet Security Pro 3.0 also caused minimal impact, other suites by McAfee and ZoneAlarm sometimes tripled the application open times.
Its worth noting that BitDefender’s scanning technology, called Performance Optimization, is designed to skip files known to be safe, a surprising shortcut for a company that insists security is more important than speed. While this makes for a more efficient scanning process, we’d be dubious of letting a security program give our files the benefit of the doubt. For instance, what if a file becomes infected? Locally stored files can become unsafe in the same way Web sites can be attacked and become malicious, even without the host’s knowledge, so we’d prefer that our security program take the comprehensive route—even if it’s not the fastest.
Virus Bulletin reports that BitDefender catches 97.6 percent of malware. While that’s not as high as Symantec (98.7 percent) or ZoneAlarm (97.8 percent), it’s markedly higher than Trend Micro (91.3 percent) and McAfee’s (93.6 percent) ratings.
After installing the software and running the first scan, the boot time on our Tecra M10 rose by 12 seconds. That’s slightly better than average: Symantec Norton 360 and Trend Micro Internet Security Pro 3.0 slowed the boot time by 15 and 17 seconds, respectively, but McAfee shaved 20 seconds off the boot time.
Like other suites, Total Security 2010 also comes with a toolbox of tune-up utilities designed to speed up your PC’s performance. These tools include a disk defragmenter, PC cleanup (which removes temporary files and cookies), registry cleaner, and a tool that removes file duplicates. Absent, however, is a startup programs remover. From the intermediate interface (for a typical user) we had to run each of these processes individually. One tool (the disk defragmenter) shows the time elapsed, but not a progress bar.
Online Backup, Licenses, and Support
Total Security 2010 comes with three licenses and 2GB of online storage. For a program with this much storage, this range of features, and this many licenses, it’s slightly expensive. While Total Security 2010 costs $79.95 per year, Symantec Norton 360 costs $69.99; Trend Micro Total Internet Security Pro 3.0, $69.95; and McAfee Total Protection 2009, just $49.99. You can upgrade to 5GB for $29.95. The program has a-year warranty, including 24/7 tech support.
As BitDefender works to appeal to both its techie core users as well as newer, more mainstream customers, it has produced an innovative, attractive interface in Total Security 2010 that allows users to customize the level of sophistication. That said, the company could stand to do even more work simplifying the easy version for newbies. For ten dollars less ($69.95) Trend Micro Internet Security Pro 3.0 offers equally strong parental controls, along with a simple (but less attractive) UI—but lower scores in third-party malware detection testing. Despite its high price, Total Security 2010 is the strongest all-in-one security suite out there, offering detiled parental controls and minimal performance impact.