As Mac OS X users will tell you, Apple computers are far less likely to contract a virus than Windows based PCs. This is not, however, because OS X is a virtually impenetrable operating system, but rather because the meager market share of Mac computers makes them less appealing targets. The entire point of many viruses is to harvest data and create networks of “zombie” computers, so it doesn’t make sense to target OS X.
That does not mean, however, that OS X viruses don’t exist. They are rare, but they are possible, and can be just as damaging as Windows viruses when they do pop up. Also, OS X machines can pass on viruses that target Windows machines unknowingly.
To protect yourself (and your friends using Windows computers) you of course will need an antivirus for Mac.
PC Tools – iAntivirus for Mac
The strange irony of the name aside, iAntivirus is one of the more popular antivirus options currently available for Mac OS X. It is made by PC Tools, a company responsible for products I have previously recommended such as PC Tools Free Firewall for the PC.
If there is any one thing I’ve consistently noticed about PC Tools it is that they put a high value on an easy to use and understand interface. The PC Tools iAntivirus software is simple to install and does not require that you make any decisions.
Once installed, a crosshair icon appears as a menu extra in the upper right. Clicking on it will let you open the program proper, but even then you’ll find only two options staring back at you. One is the option to scan your Mac and the other is the option to turn protection on or off.
The rest of the program’s options can be accessed by clicking on Preferences after opening the menu extra icon, but there aren’t many options to choose from. You can examine any items that are in quarantine, change the automated virus scan schedule, and view the history of the actions iAntivirus has taken. That’s it. iAntivirus does not include advanced features like a phishing filter, nor does it include firewall software. It is an antivirus program for the Mac, plain and simple.
Choosing such a minimalist design is a bold move for a mostly Windows oriented company, but it feels appropriate. Of course, the downside to this is obvious. With so few options there is very little that you can do to change settings that you don’t like. If you want an antivirus that depends more on user control, read on.
ClamXav is a different kind of beast. It is a free antivirus program that is based off ClamAV, an open source antivirus engine for UNIX machines. ClamXav is largely the work of one developer who works on the program regularly and provides it free of charge.
This is a valiant image – the lone programmer working for nothing to provide his OS X compatriots with antivirus protection – but it shows in the program’s overall usability. The first thing you’ll notice about ClamXav is that the installation processor is a bit confusing. You have to install the program into the Applications folder, but then an installer front end appears when you launch the program, and there is some kind of plugin to install as well. It isn’t rocket science, but it is more complex than it needs to be.
Once launched you’ll find that the interface’s basic functions are simple, but the more in-depth options (such as those in the Preferences menu) can be hard to understand. The program makes up for this by providing a buffet of features. An exclusions system lets you place certain files outside the jurisdiction of ClamXav so that you don’t waste time scanning files you know are safe. The scheduling software lets you choose the parts of your system you want to have scanned. Finally, ClamXav has a feature called Sentry that actively monitors folders of your choosing for viruses.
All of these advantages aside, ClamXav does feel a little out of place. Mac OS X is about simplicity and ease of use, but neither of these traits seem to have been a part of ClamXav’s design. Instead, the program serves as a reminder than Macs, simple though they may, uses UNIX as a foundation. But if creating antivirus exclusions by writing regular expressions is up your alley (or you even understand what that means) ClamXav is worth a look.
ClamXav and iAntivirus couldn’t be more different. While ClamXav is a detailed, customizable antivirus for Mac, targeted towards users who know more than the average bear, iAntivirus is a simple program that sacrifices user control at the altar of usability.
The decision here is not difficult. If you consider yourself a Mac power user, and you don’t mind acknowledging the UNIX foundation of OS X, ClamXav is for you. But if you think a UNIX just might be a male unicorn you’re probably better off with iAntivirus.
Which one do you prefer?