Lavasoft Ad-Aware Pro 2008 adds IT-focused features to the antivirus scans, automatic updates, spyware blocking, and privacy protections in the Ad-Aware Plus paid version.
The 2008 version introduces a full antivirus component, licensed from Avira, which detects much more malware than the previous standalone anti-spyware software. However, while the company says the addition pits Ad-Aware Pro against major antivirus apps, Ad-Aware doesn't perform the full range of malware checks typical to programs such as Norton, McAfee and Kaspersky. It doesn't run 'on-access' antivirus scans whenever a file is saved to your hard drive, for instance, though it will use the Avira engine to check files on your drive during scheduled or manual scans.
Lavasoft says the Pro or Plus upgraded versions should still continue to run alongside other antivirus programs, and on my test PC with AVG I didn't run into any problems.
Pro version enables many other features inaccessible in the Free version, along with a few IT-focused upgrades over the Plus version. Most important, you get automatic updates, tech support and real-time 'Ad-Watch' protection. Ad-Watch alerts you if a known malicious process or program, attempts to run on your PC. It also alerts you about any changes to the Windows registry and can clear your Web browser cache, cookies and history by default--though those two features can prove troublesome.
The RegShield registry watcher--enabled by default--pops up a large number of alerts for benign registry changes, such as those from normal Windows processes, without a clear description or advice for whether it should be allowed. TrackSweep clears the browser cache, history, and cookies from Firefox, Internet Explorer, or Opera. That sounds good, but it meant that in my tests, Ad-Aware cleared all that data from Firefox each time I shut down the browser.
For anti-spyware and antivirus scans, you can choose between a 'smart' scan (which focuses on critical parts of your PC) and a full scan (which digs in everywhere). You can also define a custom scan that only checks particular locations and file types, or schedule a scan that runs automatically at certain times. However, while you can schedule regular, recurring scans, you can't create a custom scheduled scan.
Ad-Aware helpfully separates scan results into critical objects that everyone will want to remove, such as Trojans and other harmful spyware, and privacy objects such as tracking cookies or document history, which might not worry some people. You can remove discovered objects individually or all at once. One minor annoyance: To find out what each cookie actually is, you'll need to greatly expand the column that names it. Otherwise there's too much data on one line to see what's there. But that's more than offset by the ability to create a Windows System Restore point from within the software before removing any objects, in case you accidentally remove something necessary.
The Pro version, like Plus, brings in tools for editing or locking down the Windows hosts file, a little-used networking file sometimes targeted by malware. Pro also adds command line options, a network traffic viewer, and a process viewer that provides technical details on everything that's running on your PC. These are best suited to IT staff or major techies.