Faronics' latest version of Anti-Executable heads back to the lab

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It's popular with police departments, schools and other institutions where users' install rights need to be contained. But the new 3.0 version of Faronics' Anti-Executable doesn't click so well with a common touchpad driver.

Anti-Executable's page on the Faronics Web site proclaims that "PERSISTENCE IS FUTILE" -- meaning that users on Anti-Executable machines can only load programs from a carefully controlled "whitelist," no matter how badly they think they need to play Solitaire or download a file from that nice prince in Nigeria who wants to transfer some money to them. Mainly geared to enterprises, the program also comes in a single-computer version for non-enterprise installations. That's the version we tested, or began to test, at BetaNews this week.

Anti-Executable has a reputation for tenacity, and once it's installed and configured it offers very few means for circumventing its protections. Usually, however, the program's stubbornness turns up once users have gone through the installation process, during which Anti-Executable is built to do a deep scan, authorizing only those executables already present on the machine and preventing installation of subsequent unknowns.

After our installation, the program did indeed do what it claimed to do -- this reviewer was prevented from running any unknown executables. However, this reviewer was also prevented from using any part of her laptop as all, as the machine entered an endless reboot loop.

This review from an independent blogger based in the Phillipines shows Faronics Anti-Executable...at least when it's in working order.

A reversion to the last stable version of the XP testbed system brought our machine back to life, but Anti-Executable clearly installed at least one item -- a system-tray icon, which in theory one uses to access the configuration screens for the product. For now, though, it's just a random icon -- or will be until the testbed gets a look from registry-management software over the weekend, the usual msconfig quick-fix being unhelpful.

If you're a software developer, you may be squirming right about now. x.0 releases vary in polish by company, but a full-on can't-even-dig-this-out-once-the-machine's-back-to-normal meltdown just hurts.

We called the company to see what could be done, and if it was a known issue or simply our bad luck. (Software reviewers tend toward bad tech luck; the staff motto at at least one major computer publication is, "A test without a crash is like a day without sunshine." Happy are the people who get to break stuff for a living.)

But a tech-support staffer at Faronics said that it wasn't just us; similar calls started coming in after the software was made available for download last month. Many of those calls seemed to involve laptops (as did our testing); the problem soon became clearly related to the Synpatics touchpad driver powering the BetaNews test machine and others. It is currently unclear whether drivers from Alps and Cirque, the other major touchpad vendors, experience similar issues.

And now? A Faronics spokesperson says the developers have a bead on the problem (and were correctly able to deduce from our description that the problem likely lay with our choice of testbed). He noted that the fix, once developed, would go through testing and most likely be rolled in with other changes and improvements in a later release, rather than simply provided as a patch.

Fair enough; our testing can happen later. But we've visited the Faronics Web site a few times since then, and if the company is warning people about this known bug, they're not doing it anywhere near the product or download pages. That's a test, all right -- of user patience.

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