I remember from when I used a Windows machine how annoying the anti-virus apps used to be. It was kind of a “can’t live with them, or without them” relationship. If you ran a Windows machine, you had to have an anti-virus app if you wanted it to remain functional. But it was kind of like trading one thing for another, as most of the anti-virus apps were always annoying and slowed down my computer a lot (it almost felt like installing a virus that would keep away even worse viruses away from my computer).
When I made the switch to Mac, one of the big factors that influenced my decision were all the people telling me that Mac OS is safe out of the box, and that I didn’t need an anti-virus. This is kind of a difficult topic, though, and still many people don’t feel safe running their Mac without an anti-virus installed. Today we are reviewing a free alternative to the popular paid anti-virus Mac apps. It’s called ClamXav, let’s take a look!
The installation of ClamXav is actually quite scary and a little bit annoying if you download it off the website. First off, you will get a warning that tells you that bad stuff might happen to your computer if you use the app, and in that case that the bad things actually happen, ClamXav can not be held responsible.
Then, you will be asked to install the engine that the anti-virus runs on. ClamXav runs on the popular and prestigious ClamAV antivirus engine. The installation will close ClamXav and open a step-by-step installation of the engine that does all the updating and scanning within the app. After this, you’ll be able to finally use the app. Well, sort of. You also need to update the latest virus definitions before you can start scanning your computer.
I assume if you get the app from the Mac App Store, you might be able to skip the engine installation, and instead you just have to update the virus definitions.
The interface for ClamXav is as simple and functional as they come, which is a very nice change of pace from the usual anti-virus apps. You have a few buttons that can help you start or stop a scan, update the virus definitions, show the scan and update log, and access the preferences. The scanning lets you select which folders you want the app to search for viruses in, and you can even keep these folders as “favorites” in the left sidebar.
Under the preferences you’ll find options to set a default folder for the quarantined files, exclude certain extensions of files from the search, and even set periodical automatic updates for scanning or/and updating the virus definitions. Overall, it’s a pretty complete app, especially for being completely free.
Detecting and Dealing with Threats
After a scan is finished, a recount of all the stats related to the scan will appear below the main frame. In there, you’ll see the total number of infections known by the app, the number of files and directories scanned, and most importantly: the number of infections found. The infected files will be displayed with more details in the main frame, where you see the name of the file, name of the infection, and the status of the virus.
When I first ran the app, I told it to scan my home folder. It took a couple hours to finish scanning, but it didn’t find anything. Which brings up the next question…
Do You Really Need An Antivirus?
A while back AppStorm editor Joshua Johnson wrote a roundup on anti-virus apps for Mac, and in it he made it pretty clear that while an anti-virus might not be as necessary as it is on Windows machines, it might help you feel and stay more secure. If you take the necessary precautions, such as installing all of the software updates on time, and you don’t go around navigating shady sites or opening mysterious emails, then you should be fine without one. But then again, you can never be too cautious.
Even if you still don’t feel safe using your Mac without an antivirus, I would advise against buying any of the paid apps like Norton or McAfee and instead suggest one of the free open-source alternatives like ClamXav. Let’s face it, you won’t really be using it much anyway. But if you don’t trust using an open-source app with the safety of your machine, by all means buy whichever one makes you feel safe.
We can’t really advise you against using anti-virus apps, and even if we could, we wouldn’t. The truth is, you can’t ever be 100% secure. Personally, I prefer to stay away from these type of apps, but I make sure to take other precautions with what I download and where I browse. I also try to backup my computer periodically in case something bad happens (not having something like Time Machine makes it hard, but it’s still manageable).
Like I said, if you are going to use one of these apps, I don’t think you can go wrong with a free one, especially ClamXav. It’s simple, clean, and most importantly, it feels trustworthy. It also helps that it is powered by one of the most popular anti-virus engines like ClamAV is.
What is your take on Mac anti-virus apps? Do you use any, and have you payed for it? Which one? Let us know in the comments!