Ad-Aware improves for 2008

User favorite Ad-Aware releases its big update for 2008. Included are interface adjustments and an overhauled detection engine, but some of the better features have been reserved for the paid version.

This year's major update to user favorite Ad-Aware looks to be more of a course correction from some of the missteps in the 2007 version. The adware and malware detection engine has undergone a significant overhaul, resulting in faster scan times, and the interface has been changed.

Ad-Aware 2008 offers several improvements, including skins such as this dark-themed one. (Credit: CNET Networks)

The changes to the detection and removal engine will be noticeable to long-time Ad-Aware users, with Lavasoft touting faster scan times and better rootkit detection. New users should notice that the app performs faster than integrated antivirus and antimalware programs, and that's because only the paid version of Ad-Aware comes with the new antivirus engine.

That's great news for users of Ad-Aware Pro and Ad-Aware Plus, but it's the free version that has 292 million downloads and that we're looking at today.

The app's updater is no longer permanently on, and instead runs in your system's background only if you activate it--eliminating one of my big problems with last year's model. The interface improvements include six skins, cleanly designed tabbed navigation for each of the program's main functions, and easy-to-see red X's and green check marks to indicate a features status.

Besides the antivirus integration, other features disabled in the free version include the realtime Ad-Watch guard, heuristics scanning, the scheduler, and plug-ins. Although Ad-Aware detects and removes malware with ease, I hesitate to recommend it as anything more than a secondary detection engine considering that many free competitors offer more features and similar, if not stronger, levels of effectiveness.