Meet the new Ad-Aware, nothing like the old

Ad-Aware is a name that many longtime Windows watchers will recognize, but that's about all that remains from previous versions as it gets a stern-to-stem overhaul.

The new Home landing screen for Ad-Aware 10. It doesn't look much like the old one.

The new Home landing screen for Ad-Aware 10. It doesn't look much like the old one.

(Credit: Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

While the name Ad-Aware remains the same as it has for the past 13 years, everything from the user interface to the code powering Ad-Aware 10 is entirely new.

Ad-Aware Free Antivirus Plus (download), Ad-Aware Personal Security (download), and Ad-Aware Pro Security (download) are substantially new programs. More so than any recent version of Ad-Aware, the suite is usable, lightweight, and worthy of your attention.

That may sound preposterous given how bloated and unwieldy the suite had become, but this is a new animal entirely. Ad-Aware's parent company, Lavasoft, was sold in January 2011 by its Swedish founders to a Canadian investment company. Daniel Assouline, the new chief executive officer of Lavasoft, wrote in an e-mail to CNET that the biggest goal of the new Ad-Aware was to get out of people's way.

"We've put a lot of focus on delivering protection that won't slow our users down," he said. "It was our most common complaint and the one reason we've heard so many users still reluctant to install any antivirus on their PC."

Assouline claims that an AV-Comapratives system performance test found Ad-Aware put very little strain on system resources during scans, just 1 percent CPU utilization. CNET Labs' own system benchmark test results will be available soon. My tests on a real-world computer found that the Ad-Aware Pro Security 10 averaged 4 minutes, 23 seconds over three clean installs for its first scan, a competitive score.

It also didn't hinder me from loading various browsers or Web sites. Over a few hours of testing, it was hard not to be impressed with how far Ad-Aware has come since version 9. Version 10 definitely appears to be usable.

Ad-Aware 9.5 hasn't changed its interface, but there have been under-the-hood changes to how it performs.

(Credit: Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

Certainly, the new Ad-Aware is easier to use. Gone is the tripartite vertical sectioning, replaced instead with a more traditional layout. Not unlike the major interface change that Avast introduced for its fifth version, the interface's quirkiness has been replaced by usability. The interface is divided into three horizontal sections: the top contains navigation to Home, Info, and Options; the second shows you a large, protection status icon with links to dive deeper into recent protection on the right; and the majority of the interface offers additional protection tools such as gaming mode, firewall, and safe browsing.

Even though those tools are categorized into Basic and Advanced, they all have buttons on the main screen for quick toggling. More advanced configuration options are still available, but as with most of the competition, they've been buried one level down to avoid confusing beginners and to keep visual clutter to a minimum. Click the name of any feature and a pop-up provides a brief explanation of what it does. Click the gear icon next to it to dive into config options.

The interface is multi-threaded, which means that using text "breadcrumbs" you can easily find your way back through the interface the way you came, or directly to the Home screen.

Features have been improved in the free version, too. Like Avast, both free and paid now offer the same level of core protection against viruses and malware. Nag screens have been removed, a silent/gaming mode has been added, and Ad-Aware now gives advanced heuristics and rootkit protection to people using the free version.

The new Ad-Aware completed its Quick Scan noticeably faster than its predecessor.

The new Ad-Aware completed its Quick Scan noticeably faster than its predecessor.

(Credit: Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

Assouline also said that people can expect to see new features land in Ad-Aware regularly, as the program has adopted an aggressive release cycle not unlike Chrome and Firefox. He cautioned, though, that it was not the six-week cycle that those browsers have.

The installation is straightforward, although it still does opt you in to the Ad-Aware browser toolbar for Internet Explorer and Firefox. The toolbar's been streamlined, stripped of most extraneous features, and offers a search engine powered by upstart Google competitor Blekko. It also detects bad URLs and blocks you from loading them.

Unlike nearly all of its competitors, it does not require you to register to use the free version or the trials of the paid upgrades. What it does do similarly to its competitors on install is good, though: it automatically downloads new virus definition files and runs a quick scan. (A reboot is unfortunately required; that's an occupational hazard for security suites that have deep hooks into the Windows OS.

The differences between the paid versions and the free versions have shrunk, as more features have been front-loaded into the free version. Ad-Aware Personal Security 10 adds reputation and anti-malware filtering for $12 per year. Ad-Aware Pro Security offers e-mail, USB, a two-way firewall, and network protection at $36 per year. If you don't care about the spam filters or parental controls, and you trust Ad-Aware, that could be quite a deal.

A full review of Ad-Aware 10 will be available on Thursday.

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