updated 04:30 pm EDT, Tue March 25, 2008
First Look: AntiVirus
If you use any version of Windows, an antivirus program is an absolute necessity to protect your computer. If you use a Macintosh, an antivirus program is an option. Although a handful of Macintosh viruses exist, the main purpose of any Macintosh antivirus program is to screen out Windows-specific viruses that you may accidentally pass on to Windows users. If you never share files with Windows users, you probably don't need an antivirus program. If you regularly share files with Windows users, you may need an antivirus program like Norton AntiVirus for Mac.
Like most antivirus software, Norton AntiVirus offers two forms of protection: scanning and monitoring. You can run the scanner manually or set it according to a schedule to search your hard disk for infections. Scanning simply examines every file and searches for signs, called "signatures," of known viruses, worms, and Trojan horses.
AntiVirus for Mac scans your whole computer
Scanning an entire hard disk can take several hours since the program exhaustively examines every file including GIFs and plain text files, which are the least likely to contain a virus. To save time, you can selectively choose which files to scan or schedule a particular time to scan your computer, such as late at night.
For additional configuration, the program lets you modify its automatic protection features, which can be handy if you want to disable certain features. In case your Macintosh has a limited amount of RAM, you may wish to disable auto-protection, which loads a scanner program into memory to constantly watch and protect your computer.
Since most people have no idea how an antivirus program works or whether it's doing anything at all, Norton AntiVirus provides a Dashboard widget to alert you about the latest threats and your current auto-protection status.
To help you understand the specific types of threats the program can detect and remove, Norton AntiVirus displays a list of viruses and other Internet threats that it can defend against, such as Trojans, worms and macro viruses.
While the threat of Mac malware is growing as more people use the platform, the big question every Mac user needs to ask is whether they need an antivirus program at all. Browsing through the program's list of viruses and Internet threats reveals that the vast majority of threats are, in fact, Windows-specific problems. The handful of Macintosh threats are limited to ancient HyperCard viruses or Mac file infectors, both of which are such low threats that the danger of infection, let alone losing any data from these threats, is close to zero.
For $49.95, Norton AntiVirus works as advertised. The only trouble is justifying its cost to protect you against nearly non-existent threats. If you share files with Windows users, or regularly run Windows inside a virtual machine using Parallels or VMWare Fusion, the program can keep you from spreading malicious programs through any files you spread to others.
If you're strictly a Mac user who never shares files with Windows users, any antivirus program is basically unnecessary (for now). No matter how well-designed any Mac antivirus program may be, ultimately it's more about guarding against Windows threats than anything specific. Norton AntiVirus for Mac may be good insurance, but for most people, it's the type of insurance they won't really need.