Recently I had the pleasure of watching Chris Pirillo’s interview with Doug Swanson, the VP of Development at Malwarebytes (available to view on Facebook or Google+). Viewing it was a pleasure because I use Malwarebytes on my computers, recommend it to my clients and the members of the computer clubs I attend, and I have even posted two pieces about my experience with it (For Computer Security, Can Malwarebytes Do the Job? and More Malwarebytes: Prevention or Detection?). But for all that activity, hearing the philosophy and business goals from a real human being executive of the company adds something special, particularly when that executive is not shipping thousands of jobs overseas and then bragging about productivity.
When I first downloaded Malwarebytes from bleepingcomputer.com, it felt different. Reviews had recommended it as a powerful way to rid oneself of certain malware that the mainline guys missed. Naturally I was suspicious until I could test it myself. This is what I did with all the major competitors. In deference to my clients, I had computers with Norton, McAfee, AVG, and Kaspersky installed on them so that I could become familiar enough with each that when a client got in trouble, I would not fumble around trying to figure out how to navigate through the various interfaces. Occasionally I would install other brands temporarily for testing. The field is so crowded that it is impractical to have dedicated computers running a version of each. Malwarebytes did not disappoint.
About the time of my introduction to Malwarebytes, I had given a two-hour presentation on computer security. The dismal bottom line was that even the best packages could miss about 30% of new editions of malware. The interesting thing was that not all applications missed the same bad guys. This meant that if you could run (for instance) Norton and McAfee on a single computer without incurring major overhead problems (two big “ifs”), then you could get better protection.
Alas, not only is this not normally possible, but the whole story is actually more bothersome. Installing two normal anti-malware applications on the same computer (assuming they let you install both, and if not, you override the restriction at your own risk) is disastrous. Several times I have had to spend a fair amount of effort probing registries to fix computers on which the owners had tried the uncontrolled experiment of running two anti-virus programs simultaneously, and then attempted to delete either or both after uninstall failed. I go into people’s registries when I have to, but it is not my favorite activity. In general, I prefer a clean re-install, but that is not always possible. Why should a Windows re-install be the punishment for trying to protect your computer? Why not have protection that permits multiple applications to run simultaneously?
All this leads up to the effective combination of Microsoft Security Essentials and Malwarebytes, which I now suggest clients use. After a couple of tries, Microsoft seems to have gotten it right with MSE, and it plays nice with Malwarebytes since Malwarebytes was designed (as confirmed by the interview) to do just that. Take a moment to consider the implications of that last sentence. Consider giants like Sony and Apple. When they introduce a product, do they build in compatibility with competitors, or do they introduce proprietary configurations? Do they work to get the job done, or do they waste resources fighting over patents? The management of Malwarebytes seems to be more in agreement with the concept of trying to do the best for consumers than many of the bigger players. The interview reinforces my opinion of that mental set of the people in charge. Of course they have to make money. That comes with the territory. And no one should begrudge them an honest income. But I do get annoyed when companies try to stretch an honest income into huge profits by building fences rather than doing what is best for the most people. Another thing that annoys me is the snooty response I get from MBAs when they hear me say that. I believe one can build an effective patent fence to protect intellectual property and still run a moral company and make money at it — within limits.
Giving the devils their dues, maybe growing a new technology to nationwide or worldwide importance requires a few nasty people to get things done without concern about doing the right thing for the people. Neither Bill Gates nor Steve Jobs got high marks for public service when building empires. Both grew more socially conscious over the years. In previous generations we had railroad barons (railroads were like the first Internet) and petroleum magnates. Many of them mellowed with age.
Opinions about these leaders and their companies often change with time as their creations become part of our culture. On the other hand, Malwarebytes, with its apparently public-oriented approach, will not grow to such splendor as Microsoft or Apple. In the meanwhile, the company produces a spiffy product, both free and paid, which does what it is supposed to do and does it better than packages that cost much more. I say more power to Malwarebytes.