avast! 8 beta is available -- get it NOW!

AVAST Software has released the first public beta of avast! 8 (or the first official one, anyway). Downloads are available for avast! Free Antivirusavast! Pro Antivirusavast! Premier Antivirus andavast! Internet Security.

The immediately obvious change is avast’s clean new GUI. The home page presents a simple front end to each product, dividing its functionality up into six tiles, but clicking one of the tabs at the top of the screen allows you to quickly drill down into the detail.

Explore the menus a little further and you’ll quickly spot several new tools. Perhaps the most important is the Software Updater, which will check your installed applications for missing updates. We’re not sure how many programs are supported, but already it’s covering the most important candidates: Adobe Reader, Flash, Java, all the main browsers, and so on.

Elsewhere, Browser Cleanup aims to help you remove annoying addons from your browsers (although this only appears to work with IE and Firefox at the moment, at least on our system), AccessAnywhere allows you to set up remote access to your PC, while DataShredder will securely wipe files, drives or partitions. The last two will only be included as a part of the new avast! Premier product tier, though, so keep that in mind when you’re deciding what to download.

And of course there have also been improvements to the core protection technologies, so for instance FileRep and WebRep are now better able to identify and new threats in near real time.

Keep in mind that this is a beta, and even by those standards it has plenty of problems. In particular, there’s no Windows 8 support yet, and Facebook registration is buggy: you’re better off registering with an email or skipping it altogether.

In our brief tests we’ve also noticed performance issues and some product instabilities. And the official avast! forum announcement talks of several other issues, including broken profile detection with the firewall, stability issues with Outlook plugins, and a significant Data Shredder bug (it can’t shred files or partitions: oops).

This is only to be expected with betas, though, so isn’t any particular cause for alarm. So if you want to install avast! Free Antivirus or avast! Internet Security then go ahead (apparently they can be installed over an existing version, keeping your current settings), just expect occasional problems as you explore the new features.

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