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Unless you live at the short end of a 2400 baud modem, by now you know about adware. And you probably also know about Ad-aware, one of the first applications built to scan your system for adware and spyware and remove it. Ad-aware's good reputation is well-justified, but the latest version shows more concentration on the aesthetics and less on functionality. After a four-month period of no reference list update, Ad-aware re-emerged at version 6.0 with a sharp new interface and split into Standard (free), Plus, and Professional versions. While the interface is greatly improved, our tests revealed only mediocre functionality.
The sky-blue interface features five buttons. The first two, Status and Scan, lead to the core function of the application. These buttons initiate a scan of your files for adware components. After scanning is complete, the program presents a summary of results, followed by detailed results, where you select exactly which components will be removed. Ad-aware quarantines the files it removes, a nice feature which lets you restore those you didn't really want to get rid of. The third button, Ad-watch, is nonfunctional in the Standard version. The fourth button, Plug-ins, shows you what plug-ins are installed (we found none available at the time of this review). The fifth leads to the help files.

During our testing, Ad-aware missed three major and two minor adware components extant on our test machine; but of the components it did find, it couldn't remove many of them because the files were in use, unlike its competitor, Spybot, which can launch before all drivers are loaded. The adware detection problem could be solved by an updated reference list, as long as the Ad-aware team remains focused on updating it. We also found its scanning to be slower than Spybot. We were pleased to see an auto-update feature, lacking from previous versions. Overall, Ad-aware's hiatus was nothing more than a trip to the beauty salon.

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