Ad-aware SE Personal Edition 1.06 is the latest version of Lavasoft's popular free antispyware program, and not surprisingly, it continues to meet the high standards that Ad-aware is known for. Long considered the grandfather of antispyware programs, Ad-aware keeps getting better. Of all the antispyware software tested by Download.com, Ad-aware SE finished in the top three, removing virtually everything we threw at it, and it finished number one in overall performance. Ad-aware SE is available in two versions. Ad-aware SE Personal is free and will quarantine and remove spyware on your PC. Ad-aware SE Plus sells for US$29.95 and includes real-time protection, automatic updates, and advertising block -- features that are disabled within the free edition. Either edition of Ad-aware should be a must-have for every PC desktop.
This latest version of Ad-aware SE runs faster than previous versions, and it finds and deletes even more illicit programs that track your surfing and cause many of those annoying pop-up ads. With its light use of resources and thorough scans, Ad-aware also beats paid antispyware programs, such as McAfee AntiSpyware. In addition to providing a more robust scanning engine, Ad-aware now sports a sleek new interface that makes the program more attractive and extremely simple to use. Ad-aware's custom skins let you change the look and feel of the app in a variety of ways.
Downloading and installing Ad-aware SE Personal took only a few minutes. It's best to run a full system scan the first time you use Ad-aware. After that, it's much faster to use the Smart Scan option, which checks only files that have recently changed on your hard drive. Ad-aware is highly configurable, with more options and choices than you'd expect. The default settings work great with most systems, though, and unless you have an unusual situation, you shouldn't have to fiddle with any settings.
If you've been using your PC on the Internet without any spyware protection, you'll probably be amazed at how many offending programs Ad-aware finds. Unfortunately, the process of removing offending apps with Ad-aware can be confusing at times because Ad-aware doesn't provide much helpful information about the suspect spyware it marks for quarantine. For example, it doesn't identify which applications might need a suspected spyware/adware component in order to run. But don't worry, Ad-aware doesn't entirely remove the spyware, just quarantines it in a secure folder, so if for some reason you actually needed one of those adware components, you could easily reinstall it later within Ad-aware.
In testing performed by CNET Download.com, Ad-aware SE Plus performed one of the fastest full-system scans, clocking in at mere 11 minutes, 30 seconds. It was also one of the most accurate, with Ad-aware identifying the biggest threats in our test group. Ad-aware also picked up one item that appeared to be a false positive not detected by any of the other programs in our tests. In the end, Ad-aware SE Plus left only a couple of fairly harmless spyware elements on our test machine.
Our only gripe is regarding Lavasoft's paltry support options. E-mail technical support is not available for the free version, and the support area on Lavasoft's Web site is underwhelming to say the least. That said, the program is pretty easy to use and the integrated help system is complete and should be able to answer most questions.