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The days of 'thickware'

Posted: Thursday, March 20, 2008

Thickware. How else can you describe the latest generation of anti-virus software?

Remember the good ol' days when all you needed was an anti-virus program? Now we have added firewalls, spam filters and anti-spyware protection. Warnings flash up when certain programs request access to the Internet. Spyware essentially adds a layer of protection to our Internet browsers. It all adds up to "thickware."

I encountered thickware two years ago in my effort to assimilate an update from Symantec on my ancient Compaq computer. For years I had used Symantec's anti-virus program, and I had added the firewall. Then I decided to renew my subscription and encountered thickware - sort of like molasses!

Most people who encounter buggy software simply uninstall it and ask for a refund. But folks like me find such difficulties somewhat intriguing. I had to dig deep to find out what was wrong with the program. As many of you have discovered, this search places you in touch with the offshore help desk.

First I used the chat room, then their e-mail service. In both cases, the people I "cybersistically" met were reasonably well-informed, wrote English well and were perceivably courteous. But their depth of expertise extended no further than basic Symantec knowledge, the same online help that any of us could use to find an answer to our technical problems. I needed something better and simply did not get a positive result. Does that make me ordinary?

After searching the Internet, I found out that hundreds had encountered the same problem. I read a couple of dozen sources and discovered that no one had a solution. Simply put, Symantec was writing off a segment of the market. The final result for me and for them was dropping the subscription.

Symantec is not alone in this paradox. One of the luxuries of being a university instructor was that I could use the lab and my students to test and evaluate software. We tried out the beta version of the Microsoft anti-spyware package. What we discovered in the lab and what students discovered on their home computers was thickware. Despite its potential (it was not a bad product), it was simply too much load on their computers and they removed it for that reason.

I started testing a product from Avast that is thin, works efficiently and shares with Microsoft the concept that securing the home computer should not warrant an extra expense. Avast licensing fees are only charged to corporate users. It has minimal impact on my six-year-old XP, and works well with Vista. I have now used it for two years without a hitch.

The important thing is that thickness is not inevitable. If you have an old computer, focus on "slim" software so that it keeps performing well. Our old computer still provides a robust service to the family, running Avast, OpenOffice and an assortment of games and multimedia software that fits the computer's capabilities.



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