updated 12:05 am EDT, Tue July 22, 2008
PC Tools iAntiVirus
Anyone who has used a Windows PC knows that you absolutely must have an anti-virus program or else your computer will likely crash the moment you connect to the Internet. Fortunately, the Mac has remained largely untouched by the variety of malware (viruses, worms, Trojan Horses, and spyware) that plagues PCs. However, with the growing popularity of the Mac, it's inevitable that more people will start writing malware for the Mac. Although you don't need an anti-virus program for the Mac just yet, you might feel safer knowing that a free one exists called PC Tools iAntiVirus.
The biggest distinction between this program and rival anti-virus programs for the Mac, such as Norton AntiVirus, is the size of its database. Nearly all antivirus programs contain a database of known viruses and other malware threats. Each time an antivirus program scans a file, it checks its database to determine if it recognizes a virus embedded in the file.
An antivirus program is only as effective as its database, which is why you must constantly update this antivirus database. Since few malware programs threaten the Mac, most Mac antivirus programs pad their database full of Windows virus information. This lets the antivirus program boast that it can find and recognize thousands of viruses. What these antivirus programs fail to tell you is that the majority of the viruses it can catch run only on Windows, which can never harm your Mac in the first place.
What makes this program's database different is that it only contains Mac-specific malware threats. Despite the scarcity of such threats, there are several dozen malware programs that target the Mac although most of these programs are "proof of concept" programs or only capable of infecting and running on the old Mac OS 9 operating system.
After the program installs, it works silently in the background, scanning for malware threats. This necessarily gobbles up memory with the potential for slowing down your Mac, but this program doesn't appear to noticeably drag down performance.
More importantly, the program can scan inside archived ZIP files, which can be handy for protecting against malware hidden inside compressed files. Scanning inside archives takes time, so you can turn this feature off to speed up the scanning. The program also provides the usual options for excluding certain folders from scanning or changing the scan mode.
With its default settings, scanning is relatively quick while still allowing you to run other programs at the same time. Given the handful of Mac malware threats and their relative scarcity, most of the time the program won't find anything threatening your Mac. In the rare event that your Mac does get infected, the program can quarantine the suspicious file to keep it from infecting or altering any other files on your hard disk.
You don't need an antivirus program, but a free one like PC Tools iAntiVirus can protect your Mac at no extra cost. If you need technical support or need to protect Macs used in a business, the program will cost $29.95. For most Mac users at this time, any antivirus program is still more of a luxury than a necessity.