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ByteCatcher Pro and Cheap VirusScans
By Thiravudh Khoman

It's the May Day long weekend and I don't know about you, but I've had a pretty frustrating weekend.

In the past two days, I've spent hours upon hours trying to download an upgrade for my McAfee VirusScan software. No, I didn't get hit by the CIH/Chernobyl virus last week, but rather was trying out an el cheapo home version of VirusScan I obtained from the U.S. recently.

After I installed the VirusScan software and SecureCast, I was asked whether a check should be made for a newer version. This being a regular VirusScan, users are allowed free program updates for one year (Deluxe owners get two years of free program updates). Why not, go ahead. After a few minutes, I was informed that a newer version 4.02 was available (a definite improvement over the version 3.1.1 that comes on the CD). Would I like to download it, and how would I like to download it - automatically via SecureCast or manually using a browser download? As I wanted to keep a copy of the update, I chose to do it manually.

The file was pretty sizeable (10.1mb), and while it is not my favourite pastime to download 10 meg files, I have done it many times before to get updates for Netscape and for NT Service Packs. Each time, though, the downloads were fraught with danger, and usually multiple download attempts were required. In those cases, though, it was possible for me to switch to an ftp download as opposed to an http (i.e. browser) download, the latter being slower and less stable in my experience.

Unfortunately, it wasn't possible to do an ftp download in this case. Checking out ftp.mcafee.com, I couldn't find any signs of a v4.02 upgrade lurking anywhere. Thus, the only way to download the file was via http courtesy of the download web page which knew where the upgrade file was hiding. My first download attempt went surprisingly well, but only if you consider having the download crash 100kb away from the end a "near success". I now had a useless/incomplete 10mb file for my collection. Attempts to continue the download from the termination point proved fruitless.

Resigned to having to repeat history, I tried downloading another 7-8 times. Each time I would get a "Server was reset" error anywhere between 3mb and 5 mb into the download. I tried two ISP's (Internet Thailand and Asia Infonet), I tried two browsers (Netscape Navigator v4.08 and Internet Explorer v4.0), I tried doing the download at semi-peak evening and non-peak morning hours. No luck, the result was the same. Time to give up, as I was starting to get some really violent thoughts toward my computer.

ByteCatcher Pro

After spending some quality time with my daughters, I decided to play around with some programs on another CD that I had brought back from the U.S. On the CD was a program called "ByteCatcher Pro" (BCP), a "download/upload" program which promised "a safe and reliable way to transfer files over the internet", since it allowed you to "break and resume http or ftp downloads with a simple click". Imagine! being able to terminate a download on my own rather than having it done for me automatically! I was intrigued.

After spending barely a minute installing the program, I loaded my browser, restored the bookmark to McAfee's download page, and copied the link to the download to the clipboard which automatically fed it to BCP (figure 1). BCP then started to download the file. About an hour later, I had my precious upgrade. I was a bit disappointed that I didn't get a "server reset" error this time because I wanted to see how BCP would handle the re-start (OK, not that disappointed). Not leaving well enough alone, I tried the download again, stopping the download intentionally numerous times. BCP automatically restarted the download from the point of disruption each time! It should be noted, however, that not all servers will allow a restart. The problem is apparently inherent in the server and not in the BCP software.

Incidentally, the speed of the download was quite acceptable. With a connection speed of 31.2kbits (via a 33.6kbits modem), I managed to get a download speed of about 3.16kbytes/second coming in 5kbyte blocks. This felt more like an ftp download than an http download.

The only downside I can see to the program is that its interface is far from intuitive, especially when compared with WS_FTP Pro, my usual ftp client. Still, I have no doubt that this can be alleviated by reading the help file, which admittedly I didn't do (ironically, a testament to its ease of use?). It should also be noted that this is hardly the only program of its type - in fact, Netscape Communicator v4.61 has a "Smart Download" module built-in.

BCP is an Aussie product from Save-It Software Pty. (https://www.save-it.com). An evaluation version is available for downloading with registration costing US$24.50. The latest version is 3.2.


But let's get back to my VirusScan. Normally, I have VirusScan version 3.2.2 loaded on my computer. This is the version that can catch the Melissa virus, among other baddies. I temporarily uninstalled this, however, in favour of a cheap US$10 VirusScan which is sold among other discount CD's in computer superstores such as CompUSA and office supplies stores such as Staples, OfficeMax and Office Depot in the U.S. I've even seen it in KMart. (Note: The recently opened Challenger IT SuperStore at Ploenchit Center in Thailand now carries this as well!)

I was particularly curious to see how far I could get it upgraded. As mentioned, the software comes with an ancient v3.1.1 on the CD and who knows how old the virus definition file is. Without being able to upgrade it to something reasonably current, the software is absolutely useless - worse than useless actually, since it may lull users into a false sense of security.

But now knowing that it can be upgraded to the latest and greatest v4.02, it's truly a gem in the rough. Normally, regular VirusScan v4.0 sells for about US$50. Going the route I've taken, you can get practically the same thing for US$10, an incredible discount. The added cost, of course, is the need to download the program update and the latest virus definition file.

Copyright © 1998-2000, Thiravudh Khoman