Q:Which is better? Norton/Symantec or McAfee?
(The answer is below, however I just hung up (4/28/09) with a Symantec employee who tells me that most of what I say regarding Symantec Retail has been addressed in the 2009 Retail line. I have yet to see this product, so I can't say. When I can, I will. )
Later: Nothing has changed. It has only gotten worse. Do not consider installing Symantec or McAfee on an XP machine (or Vista) unless it has at least 1GB of RAM. And, even them , it may bring it to its knees, especially if it is on the order of 6 or more years old. A new Win 7 machine can handle it , but it is still un-necessary. And it is not really any better than the free Avast (configured and monitored weekly).
A: I can't recommend any retail consumer products from either of these vendors. At least not in good conscience. Not after 2005 – anyway. My guess is that neither of these vendors will agree with my assessment. These are my opinions based on 25+ years of system software development experience and 8+ years of watching the Anti-virus/Anti-Spyware industry close-up.
Both will do as good a job as can be hoped for in protecting you from the bad guys they claim to thwart. I have no issue with their effectiveness.
However they are poorly architected blobs of acquired components that hog system resources to the point of crippling an older machine. Most of the stuff they have glommed together is unnecessary fluff. And if this mish-mash of add-ons could be argued as necessary, they are certainly not efficiently implemented. Another instance of arrogant software. You can't trim the configuration to the essentials and remove their adware components.
In short the price is simply too high. First, (dollar wise) there are free alternatives available. Second, they hog resources to the extent that an older machine might not be able to perform reasonably after installing this mess.
I can recommend the Symantec "Corporate" or Enterprise version of their offerings for business use. It is lean and reasonably efficient and only loads the essentials. This is offered because corporate america sees the folly and arrogance of the "retail" versions.
If you must install one of these two retail products , then I'd go with McAfee. Simply because, at least for now, it is less intrusive. If it is free for a while, on a Win 7 Machine, then I wouIdn't rush to remove it until they ask for money. must add a disclaimer here because I worked for McAfee 5 or 6 years ago. and I wrote some of their Firewall software (Which is excellent BTW. (I think they stopped selling the stuff I wrote a short time back. But it was on at least 5-Million desktops worldwide, maybe a lot more than that ) ) Had they not jammed their security center into the picture.
Never install McAfee's Privacy Protection. If it is active, I'd remove it. I've seen the code and it is not pretty.