avast! Free 6 beta adds features from commercial version

Free antivirus tools can occasionally be short on features, a little lacking in comparison to their commercial brothers. Avast! has always been an exception, though, and the first public beta of avast! Free 6 extends the program even further with a host of useful capabilities.

The new AutoSandbox, for instance, can automatically detect a suspicious program as it's launched, and execute it in the avast! sandbox, an isolated environment where there's little chance that it can infect or damage your PC.

The package now includes a WebRep browser plugin, which displays the reputation of the sites in your search engine results, helping you to identify dangerous links before you click. Currently this works only with Firefox and Internet Explorer, but avast! says a Chrome extension will be available soon. And an avast! gadget displays your security status on the desktop, and allows you to launch a scan in a couple of clicks.

As before, avast! Free 6 comes with a host of real-time protection technologies, monitoring the programs you launch, the documents you open, the web pages you view, your incoming and outgoing emails, P2P and instant messaging downloads for any signs of danger.

And the program now extends these with additional tools that were previously only available in the commercial version. Script Shield intercepts and scans any scripts executed on your system, while the Site Blocking module allows you to block access to the sites or URLs that you specify.

Before you rush off to try avast! 6 for yourself, keep in mind that it is a first public beta. It isn't fully finished (the Help files aren't completed, for example), and there will inevitably be plenty of bugs; so you shouldn't use the package full-time just yet.

If you're interested in avast! or free antivirus tools in general, though, then you'll find a lot to like here, and it's definitely worth taking this new release out for a quick trial run.

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