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PCMag.com Software Product Guide

Software Reviews | Computer Software Review

MSRP: $0.00



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Bottom Line: Zoho CRM’s fresh, responsive dashboard and user experience update rolls its sales, email marketing, reporting, and customer service power for small and medium-size businesses in a modern, intuitive package at an affordable price.

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Bitdefender Anti-Ransomware

Smallpox killed many hundreds of thousands before Edward Jenner worked out a technique for vaccination, a treatment that mimicked the effects of having already suffered and recovered from the disease. Bitdefender Anti-Ransomware uses a similar technique to keep your PCs safe from ransomware infection—similar enough that the company calls it ransomware vaccination. This free product offers protection against attack by a very specific collection of ransomware families. It isn’t even remotely a general-purpose antivirus tool, but it does exactly what it promises to do.

The key to this technique lies in the fact that the cybercrooks who inflict ransomware on the world don’t want it to infect the same PC twice. Such a double whammy might make it impossible to decrypt files, even if the victim coughed up the ransom. The first round of infestation by the recent Petya ransomware simply checked for the presence of a certain file, and called off its attack if that file was present. (Sorry, folks: Petya’s current version isn’t so easily defeated.)

Bitdefender Anti-Ransomware uses a variety of techniques to convince specific families of ransomware that your PC is already infected, thereby deflecting their attacks. It specifically works on TeslaCrypt, BTC-Locker, Locky, and the first version of Petya. For defense against any other encrypting ransomware attack, you’ll need a full-blown ransomware protection utility.

Getting Started with Bitdefender Anti-Ransomware

This product is a free download, and you can use it on any PC at all. Unlike many free antivirus utilities, there’s no restriction against using it in a commercial setting. Download it, install it, and you’re done.

Initially, I had the impression that users would run the utility once and be done with it. I was a bit surprised to find that it launches at startup and keeps running in the background. My contact at Bitdefender explained the mere presence of a static file isn’t sufficient to convince some ransomware families that the system is already infected. For those tougher cases, an always-on background process is necessary.

Vaccinated!

With Bitdefender Anti-Ransomware on the job, I released my collection of real-world ransomware samples one by one, in an isolated virtual machine. The product did exactly what it promised to do.

The TeslaCrypt ransomware behaves in a predictable fashion. The sample I use pretends to be a legitimate, digitally signed utility, but its installer drops a random-named malware executable in the Documents folder. That secondary program proceeds to encrypt your documents, and then displays its ransomware demand. With Bitdefender active, I saw the secondary program appear, launch, and quit—without doing any dirty deeds.

My BTC-Locker sample also pretends to be something legitimate, though it doesn’t bother with using a random-named secondary program. It, too, launched, ran for a while, and then exited, without encrypting any files. The same thing happened with my sample from the Locky ransomware family. It launched, ran for a while, and terminated, with no damage to the test system.

I don’t have a Petya sample, but my experience with the other three ransomware families demonstrates that Bitdefender Anti-Ransomware does indeed prevent attacks by those families.

Not Vaccinated

Of course, matters were quite different when I released another three samples, ransomware threats from families not included in this product’s vaccination. In each case, the ransomware silently encrypted important files and then displayed its ransom demand.

This makes perfect sense. A smallpox vaccine doesn’t protect you against cholera. Even that flu shot you get every fall only protects against certain strains of influenza. Bitdefender is completely effective against the ransomware families it targets, and completely ineffective against anything else. The product itself makes that point very clear, suggesting that you upgrade to full-scale Bitdefender protection. Indeed, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus successfully detected all of my ransomware samples and prevented them from doing any harm.

One of the missed samples belonged to the Cerber family, which most experts agree is the most widespread ransomware family at present. My Bitdefender contacts said that they’re researching the possibility of adding a vaccine for Cerber, but couldn’t promise a timeline.

Other Defenses

Rather than look for signs of specific, known ransomware threats, the most effective tools instead watch for behavior that indicates ransomware activity. Whether the attacker is the scion of a well-known ransomware family or an utter upstart, never seen before, this sort of tool should recognize it by its actions.

The use of behavior-based detection does mean that you may occasionally lose some files while the ransomware protection tool is busy analyzing behavior. For example, while Malwarebytes Anti-Ransomware did successfully and eliminate all of my samples, a Cerber-family threat encrypted several files before it was quashed. That same sample completely eluded Cybereason RansomFree.

Malwarebytes and RansomFree are both free products. From my experience thus far, you get better ransomware protection if you’re willing to pay a little. At $1.99 per month, Check Point ZoneAlarm Anti-Ransomware isn’t expensive. And in testing it both detected all the samples and completely reversed their actions, leaving no files encrypted.

One Layer of Protection

Bitdefender Anti-Ransomware’s vaccination technique cleverly subverts ransomware’s need to avoid double infection. For specific, known ransomware families, it makes your PC look like it’s already infected. However, outside of that known collection, it does nothing, so you can’t use it alone. At the very least, combine this product with a full-scale antivirus, or with a free behavior-based ransomware protection tool such as Malwarebytes Anti-Ransomware or Cybereason RansomFree.

Even if you choose to pay a little for our Editors’ Choice, Check Point ZoneAlarm Anti-Ransomware, you still need protection against other types of malware. Check out our reviews of antivirus and free antivirus tools, and make your choice.

The Best To-Do List Apps of 2017



Manage Your Tasks With an App

If you haven’t gone paperless with your to-do list yet, you’re missing out. These apps let you edit and rearrange your to-dos based on changing priorities, share lists with family members or other collaborators, and get reminders for your upcoming deadlines, no matter which device you have on you at the moment. Managing tasks in an app is more efficient, more powerful, and simply a better way to be more productive than doing it on paper.

Recently, Microsoft acquired one of the best to-do apps on the market, Wunderlist, and has decided to stop supporting it as of April 2017. The app is still available, but it will no longer receive updates or bug fixes. That’s why it’s not in the table above. Anyone still using Wunderlist should start thinking about migrating to another app sooner rather than later. The company’s own offering, the free Microsoft To-Do, has basic to-do functionality, but it lacks so much that the best apps offer that it’s not really a competitor yet. It’s still in beta, so there’s hope for yet; in the meanwhile, however, Wunderlist users and those new to to-do list apps should thoroughly explore all their options and find the task-management app that best meets their needs. Fortunately, there are some excellent choices for a variety of work styles.

For example, if your idea of digital task management ideally starts in your email, you should check out ActiveInbox, which turns your Gmail inbox into a fully functioning to-do list. I think that your inbox should not be your to-do list, but everyone has different ideas. If you need an app that you can use with a number of people for shared responsibilities, you’ll want an app like Asana or Todoist that has strong collaboration features.

To-Do List Apps vs. Project Management Apps

A great to-do app for personal use, households, and even small teams doesn’t need to be super complicated, the way project management software is, even though they both essentially serve the same function. They both keep track of what needs to get done, when, and by whom. They help us manage time more efficiently and regulate how many tasks are on our plate at once. But personal to-do apps are simpler and cheaper than project management software. They’re a better choice for many use cases.

The difference between to-do list apps, sometimes also called task-management apps, and project management apps is that to-do apps track any kind of tasks whereas project management apps track tasks that are related to projects. Project management apps typically track a lot of metadata related to the project, too.

To-do apps keep track of tasks, assignees, deadlines, and even discussion points related to the tasks. Project management apps do all of that, but they also add a lot more functionality, such as tracking how many tasks various people have on their plate, how much time it takes them to complete tasks, billable hours that are associated with certain tasks or projects, and so forth. Project management apps help guide projects, which generally have a final due date and deliverable. With to-do apps, people are generally just keeping track of tasks that need to get done but that aren’t necessarily part of something that will one day end, the way a project ends.

You don’t need to keep track of billable hours when picking up milk on the way home from work, and you don’t need Gantt charts to get your kids to do their chores. At least, I hope you don’t.

What To Look for in a To-Do App

There are a few qualities I look for in a good to-do list. For starters, you have to like the way it looks. I’m serious. How are you going to get stuff done if you can’t even stand to look at the list itself because it’s ugly? A looked-at list is a useful list.

Second, I like to-do apps that give me a range of tools for organizing my tasks. For example, I want to be able to quickly sort my work tasks from my personal tasks, or view them all according to deadline, or which ones are overdue. I also want to be able to rearrange the order of my tasks quickly and easily. I should be able to schedule reminders so that I get a notification about what I need to do when it’s time, or when I’m in the location where the task should get done.

Third, it’s always nice to have the option to make lists collaborative. If you run a household, a collaborative to-do list gives you the ability to assign tasks to other people. You can open your app and assign your kid the task of walking the dog. You can assign your partner the task of calling back the accountant. Whether you want those same people to have the power to assign tasks to you is another question that I will now sidestep and refuse to answer by changing the subject.

The Best Collaborative To-Do App

PCMag has two Editors’ Choice picks for best collaborative to-do app. One goes to Todoist Premium, which is ideal for a small group of people. The other is Asana, which is better for managing more in-depth teamwork.

Todoist is a powerful to-do app for shared responsibilities, and a bonus feature is that it has a tool that monitors your productivity. Todoist has apps for all major platforms so you can use it anywhere. It’s reliable. It’s efficient. New features are being added all the time. Todoist Premium costs $28.99 per year. A free limited version is also available. I recommend starting with the free account to try it out, but make sure to consider the Premium features, as they really do add a lot of functionality and efficiency.

Asana is excellent for teamwork. Some people classify Asana as a workflow management app, and it is, but it can also function as a team to-do list. Asana has a free version, good for up to 15 people. At $99 per person per year, Asana Premium costs more than Todoist Premium, but as I said, it has additional functionality for managing more the elaborate teamwork typical of businesses.

The Best Free To-Do App

Among free apps, stick with Asana if you need to collaborate, but choose a simpler app, such as Remember the Milk, if you plan to use your to-do app solo. The problem some people encounter with Asana is that it can be too flexible. You might have a hard time figuring out just what to do with an app that comes with so many possibilities but not a lot of rules. In fact, PCMag has written entire features on how to get the most out of Asana.

Remember the Milk is extremely easy to learn to use, and the free version has all the functionality a single user needs. You won’t have any questions about what to do with it or why. Write down things you need to do. Assign deadlines. Check them off when done. It’s that’s simple.

Many of the other to-do apps on this list are excellent, but their free versions are a little limiting compared with the power of their paid versions.

Get Organized With a Great To-Do List App

Having a great to-do list app can help you get organized and get more done, whether you’re managing only your own tasks or those for a family or small team. Below are the best ones worth exploring.

A to-do app is only as useful as the information you put into it, so in addition to picking the right app, you might also want to peruse these tips for creating better to-do lists.

Featured To-Do List App Reviews:

  • Asana Review


    $0.00 MSRP

    Bottom Line: Asana helps teams manage tasks and workflows, and it’s the preeminent tool for the job. Thoughtful design and highly capable features make it a compelling productivity app.

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  • Todoist Review


    $29.00 MSRP

    Bottom Line: With a clean and simple UI and support for plenty of platforms, Todoist is one of the most feature-rich task management apps on the market, and a clear Editors’ Choice.

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  • Any.do (for iPhone) Review


    $26.88 MSRP

    Bottom Line: Any.do is a useful and well designed to-do app, though the free version is a bit limited. Its standout feature is the Any.do Moment, which encourages you to review your daily task list befor…

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  • Remember the Milk Review


    $39.99 MSRP

    Bottom Line: Remember the Milk is a capable to-do-list app with some sharing options included at no cost, making it good for household use. The Pro version unlocks extra features but is on the expensive …

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  • ActiveInbox Review


    $49.92 MSRP

    Bottom Line: Do you use your Gmail inbox as your to-do list? ActiveInbox adds tools that can make this a better experience.

     Read Full Review

  • Gneo (for iPhone) Review


    $0.00 MSRP

    Bottom Line: Beautiful and fluid, the free Gneo to-do app for iPhone is a treat for the fingers. But it may have put form over function, and serious task masters will likely want something else, and the …

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  • Google Keep (Web) Review


    $0.00 MSRP

    Bottom Line: Google Keep is a free note-taking and syncing app with a nifty OCR feature, but it lacks the features and mobile apps offered by the competition.

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Software Reviews | Computer Software Review

Bottom Line: Searchmetrics Essentials is a solid SEO platform that covers all of the basics when it comes to position and rank tracking, keyword research, and backlinks. While most of its premium features are reserved for enterprise tiers, Searchmetrics is a capable and worthwhile option for small business SEO needs.

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Software Reviews | Computer Software Review

Bottom Line: Searchmetrics Essentials is a solid SEO platform that covers all of the basics when it comes to position and rank tracking, keyword research, and backlinks. While most of its premium features are reserved for enterprise tiers, Searchmetrics is a capable and worthwhile option for small business SEO needs.

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Kaspersky Free

Everybody needs the protection of a powerful, accurate antivirus utility. Is it fair to withhold this protection from those who can’t afford it? Eugene Kaspersky, eponymous founder of Kaspersky Lab, thinks not. The brand-new Kaspersky Free offers the full power of the company’s malware-fighting technology, minus frills and bonus features. It doesn’t cost a thing, and independent testing labs give its protection excellent marks.

Like most free antivirus utilities, Kaspersky Free is only free for noncommercial use. During installation, you must create or log into your My Kaspersky account for full activation. The product also installs a toolbar for Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer. Kaspersky Free automatically updates its antivirus database signatures in the background, but it couldn’t hurt to manually call for an update right after installation.

Even though this is a simple, stripped-down product, it’s still important for users to understand all its features. To that end, the installation winds up with a simple tour of important aspects of the software. I appreciate that the tour points out Kaspersky’s on-screen keyboard, which some users might otherwise miss. More on this tool below.

The main window looks just like that of Kaspersky Internet Security, with one significant difference. It displays the same six icons as the suite does: Scan, Database Update, Safe Money, Privacy Protection, Parental Control, and Protection for All Devices. However, only Scan and Database Update are enabled in Kaspersky Free. Grayed-out icons with a royal crown overlay indicate that access to these features requires a premium upgrade.

Stellar Lab Results

Antivirus testing labs around the world do their best to evaluate security programs and determine which are the most effective. This isn’t just a matter of scanning a million static malware samples to see how many the antivirus catches. Most of the labs work to create tests that simulate real-world conditions as closely as possible, and Kaspersky gets outstanding scores from almost all of them.

The one exception is Virus Bulletin’s RAP (Reactive and Proactive) test. Kaspersky’s score in this test is just average. However, I find that results of the RAP test don’t necessarily track with the other labs; I give it less weight in my aggregate labs score calculation.

The researchers at SE Labs capture real-world malicious websites and use a web traffic playback system to expose all tested products to the exact same web-based attack. Products can earn certification at five levels: AAA, AA, A, B, and C. Like Avast, AVG, and most products in the latest test by this lab, Kaspersky received AAA certification.

AV-Comparatives certification works a bit differently. All products that earn the minimum passing score receive Standard certification, while those that do better than the minimum can earn certification at the Advanced or Advanced+ levels. In the four tests from this lab that I follow, Kaspersky received Advanced+ all four times. Bitdefender and Avira also managed to sweep all four tests.

Tests by AV-Test Institute measure antivirus success on three criteria: protection against malware, low impact on performance, and few false positives to impact usability. Software can score up to six points in each of these categories. Kaspersky earned a perfect 18 points from this lab, as did Avira, Norton, and Trend Micro.

Most of the labs report their results as certification levels or numeric scores. With MRG-Effitas, products either achieve a near-perfect result or they fail, with no middle ground. In one test, anything but perfect defense is a failure. For the other test, a product that totally prevents all malware attacks earns level 1 certification. If some attacks get through, but the product fully remediates them afterward, that’s level 2 certification. Kaspersky passed the first test and earned Level 1 certification in the second; it’s the only recent product to do so.

Kaspersky’s aggregate lab score, based on results from all five labs, is 9.8 of 10 possible points, a result also achieved by Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition. Avira looks even better, with a perfect 10 points, but its results come from just three of the five labs. Tested by all five labs, both Avast and AVG earned 9.2 points, which is still quite good.

Scans and Settings

Kaspersky’s file antivirus component scans files in real time when any process accesses them. The web antivirus watches for dangerous websites and downloads. And the IM and mail antivirus components check for dangerous attachments and phishing messages. On the Protection tab of the Settings page you can turn these on and off—but you should leave them on. Another 10 components show up as unavailable, meaning you’d have to upgrade to use them.

A full system scan of my standard clean test system took 30 minutes, which is quite good, considering that the current average is 45 minutes. Bitdefender and AVG both took over an hour, and Avira Antivirus required more than two hours. Like many antivirus products, Kaspersky performs optimization during the initial scan to speed subsequent scans. A second scan of the same test system finished in a speedy four minutes.

In theory, the real-time protection component should handle any malware attacks that occur after your initial full scan. However, you have the option to schedule a full scan or quick scan to run daily, each weekday, each weekend day, weekly, or monthly.

Malware Protection Test Results

By default, Kaspersky refrains from bothering you when it detects malware, instead dealing with it automatically. Also by default, it doesn’t meddle with objects that are probably (but not certainly) infected. For testing purposes, I disabled both of those features, forcing it to check all of its actions with me. Most users should leave those settings checked, allowing Kaspersky to take care of business silently.

To start the test, I simply opened the folder containing my current collection of malware samples. The minimal file access caused by Windows Explorer listing the files was sufficient to trigger a scan by Kaspersky’s real-time protection. It disinfected virus-infested files and offered to delete non-virus malware. It identified a few samples as “legitimate software that can be used by criminals to damage your computer.” I chose to delete those as well, figuring this category is similar to what other products call potentially unwanted applications, or PUAs.

When the notifications stopped after a few minutes, I found that Kaspersky had eliminated 57 percent of the samples, the same as Bitdefender. That’s on the low side—Emsisoft Anti-Malware and IObit both wiped out 79 percent of the same samples on sight.

Continuing the test, I launched the samples that survived real-time protection. The results were disappointing. Matching Bitdefender once again, Kaspersky detected 79 percent of the samples overall. Some of those it detected managed to plant executable traces on the test system, dragging Kaspersky’s overall score down to 7.2 of 10 possible points, just a hair above Bitdefender. Tested with the same sample collection, Emsisoft managed 9.4 points. Webroot and Comodo Antivirus achieved a perfect 10 points, but since they came up against my previous sample collection the results aren’t directly comparable.

For another measure of malware protection, I use a feed of very new malware-hosting URLs supplied by MRG-Effitas. Typically, these are no more than a day old. I launch each URL and note how the antivirus reacts. Does it divert the browser away from the dangerous URL? Does it halt the download before it finishes? Does it eliminate the malware payload after download? I don’t care how it handles the problem as long as it prevents the download.

Kaspersky exhibited a wide variety of reactions during this test. In many cases, it displayed a warning message in the browser, plus a pop-up notification that had it blocked a dangerous URL. It offered to block download of legitimate but dangerous software. It advised blocking pages containing adware. Despite this variety of responses, however, it only prevented 67 percent of the malware downloads. Norton holds the top score in this test, with 98 percent protection, and Avira managed 95 percent.

When my hands-on results don’t sync with the results from the independent labs, especially when all of the labs are involved, I defer to the lab results. Still, I’d be happier with stellar results both in lab tests and in my own tests.

Impressive Phishing Protection

The same web protection mechanism that keeps your browser from reaching malware-hosting URLs also fends off phishing sites, fraudulent websites that try to steal your login credentials. In fact, you have to look closely to see just which type of protection is active. For malware-hosting sites, the warning page reports “dangerous URL.” For phishing pages, it lets you know about a “threat of data loss.”

Phishing websites are transitory things. The fraudsters aim to capture as many passwords as they can before they get backlisted, then they move on to new sites. For testing, I gather the newest phishing URLs I can find from sites that track such things. I launch each URL simultaneously in five browsers and note what happens in each. The product under test protects one browser, naturally, and another has Symantec Norton AntiVirus Basic (which I use as a baseline) at work smacking down frauds. The other three use the phishing protection built into Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer.

If any of the browsers throws an error message instead of loading the URL, I toss it. If the page doesn’t actively attempt to mimic a secure site and steal login credentials, I toss it. When I’ve got data on 100 or so valid frauds, I calculate a score.

Phishing is more of an art than a science. The clever ploy that gets past detection one week may be a flop the next week. Because of this, I report the difference in each product’s detection rate from the other browsers, rather than a hard number. Kaspersky’s detection rate came in just one percentage point behind Norton’s. Last time I tested Kaspersky, it actually did better than Norton, but coming very close is still quite good—better than about 80 percent of competing products.

Kaspersky also did better than the protection built into all three browsers. That may not seem like a feat, but more than half of current products failed to beat at least one of the three, and over 20 percent scored lower than all of them. Bitdefender is the current champion in this test, with a detection rate 12 percentage points better than Norton’s.

Avast’s free edition fared much worse in this test, coming in 57 points behind Norton; the paid Avast did better. AVG AntiVirus Free lagged 70 points behind Norton. Chrome and Internet Explorer beat both Avast and AVG in this test. Kaspersky definitely tops these two as far as phishing protection goes.

Few Bonus Features

You might think that security companies in general would limit what they give away, reserving the best features for paying customers. In some cases, that’s true, but other companies give you a ton of goodies to go along with your free antivirus protection. AVG comes with the Zen remote management tool, a secure deletion shredder, and a web protection component that marks up dangerous search results and actively foils trackers. With Avira, the bonus features come as separate installations, including a free, bandwidth-limited edition of Avira’s Phantom VPN, a privacy-centered browser, a vulnerability scanner, and a price comparison tool.

Avast Free Antivirus really piles on the bonuses, at no charge. Its Wi-Fi Inspector checks all networks, wired or wireless, for security problems, and recommends fixes. It includes a full-featured (if basic) password manager, a vulnerability scanner, and an ad-stripping browser that switches to hardened Bank Mode for financial transactions. It marks up dangerous links in search results, watches for URL typos, and (like Avira) seeks better prices when you’re shopping online.

As with Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition, Kaspersky’s bonus feature collection is sparse by comparison. You can activate its previously mentioned on-screen keyboard to type passwords without any chance of capture by a keylogger, even a hardware keylogger. And it installs a free, bandwidth-limited edition of Kaspersky Secure Connection VPN. To be fair, even in Kaspersky’s full security suite products, the VPN comes with the same 200MB per day bandwidth limit. Rounding out the free edition’s bonus features is a simple search markup system that flags dangerous links and, with a click, identifies the relevant type of danger.

See How We Test Security Software

What’s Not Here

Eugene Kaspersky referred to Kaspersky Free as “the indispensable basics that no one on the planet should do without.” The emphasis here is on basics. While Kaspersky Free does contain all of Kaspersky’s basic antivirus technology, some features only appear in the paid edition. For example, at one point during my testing the antivirus suggested running the Microsoft Windows Troubleshooter, but advised that doing so would require an update to a paid edition. Other features present in the paid antivirus but not in the free edition include creation of a bootable Kaspersky Rescue Disk, cleaning traces of browsing activity and computer activity, and scanning the system for vulnerabilities.

The free edition does offer the same file, web, instant messaging, and mail antivirus components found in the paid edition, but it doesn’t include the System Watcher component. Among its other skills, System Watcher can roll back malware activity, including ransomware activity. When I tested Kaspersky Anti-Virus with all protection components except System Watcher turned off, it correctly identified a half-dozen ransomware samples as malware (though it didn’t specifically call them out as ransomware).

Finally, the free edition doesn’t offer the advanced technical support granted to paid users. You can root around in the FAQs and documentation, or post questions in the forums. But you can’t get the phone and live chat help that paid users enjoy.

A Treat for Kaspersky Fans

If you’re a Kaspersky enthusiast or a security-conscious person on a tight budget, you’ll love the fact that Kaspersky Free gives you all the basics of antivirus protection at no charge. This is the same malware-fighting technology that gets top scores from the independent labs, and it also earned a very good score in our hands-on antiphishing test. It’s true that it didn’t do so well in our other hands-on tests, but when the labs all praise a product, we listen.

This product is completely free, so you can install it and have a look for yourself without spending a penny. But if you do, we suggest you also take a look at Editors’ Choices Avast Free Antivirus and AVG AntiVirus Free. Both get great lab scores (though not quite as high as Kaspersky’s) and they also pack a bundle of useful security bonus features at no charge.

Software Reviews | Computer Software Review

Bottom Line: Searchmetrics Essentials is a solid SEO platform that covers all of the basics when it comes to position and rank tracking, keyword research, and backlinks. While most of its premium features are reserved for enterprise tiers, Searchmetrics is a capable and worthwhile option for small business SEO needs.

Read Full Review

Simvoly

You have a lot of choices when it comes to DIY website builders. Most tech-savvy people have heard of Squarespace and Wix, but the name Simvoly is probably not only unfamiliar, but also a bit hard to pronounce. Don’t let that deter you. Simvoly is a modern, capable, and user-friendly website builder that costs less than much of the competition. It offers a very friendly interface and good customization even within the strictures of responsive design.

Pricing and Starting Up

You can try Simvoly free without a credit card for 14 days, but there’s no permanent free account level like those offered by Duda, Weebly, and Wix. The entry-level pricing is for the Personal account level, which costs $9 per month, with a year prepaid. For that you get up to 20 pages, 5GB storage, 10GB bandwidth, two contributors, a free domain, analytics, support, and up to five store products. That compares with a $14 per month starting price for Squarespace and $10 per month for Wix.

Upgrading to the Business plan gets you unlimited storage, bandwidth, pages, and contributors, and up to 25 store products. The top E-Commerce level plan costs $22 per month and increases the store item limit to 100. Adding $10 more per month removes the item limit entirely. All plans boast zero-percent transaction fees. Squarespace and Wix don’t charge you either, but in all three cases you still have to pay a per-transaction fee to the payment-processing service. You can get started building a site using Simvoly without even creating an account until later in the process.

Building Your Site

You have two choices at the first step in your path to Simvoly site building: You can choose a template, as you would in nearly every other site builder, or you can choose Magic Website Wizard. I’ll discuss the non-magical tool first, then provide a section on Magic Website.

Simvoly’s Themes use responsive design for good presentation on mobile. They’re also modern and clean looking, and they’re categorized into nine groups, including Arts, Fashion, Personal Photography, Restaurant, Services, and Store. I’m sorry not to see a Music category, as that obviously has special needs, such as performance dates and audio streaming and downloads.

You can preview the responsively designed themes as they’d appear on PCs, tablets, and mobile devices. After you choose a theme, you next need to create an online Simvoly account. This only requires an email, username, and password. The builder page opens pre-populated with content you customize for your site’s needs. To help you do this, a wizard takes you through the basics of adding pages and widgets and modifying overall site settings.

Customization and Site Elements

Simvoly works just as I expect a modern site builder to work, letting you easily build and customize your pages with drag-and-drop functionality and mouse-over menus. As with Squarespace, you add content in blocks, which you access either from the left panel’s “+” menu or by clicking the on-hover Add Block “+” buttons. These include things like images, text areas, maps, web widgets, and even blank areas. Whenever your mouse hovers over a block, you see Edit, Move, and Delete buttons. If you click on text, you get all your text-formatting options. You can easily divide your site into up to five columns, each with adjustable width. You can undo your last action, but there isn’t a full multiple-undo capability like that in Duda. A Simvoly contact told me that a History feature is in the works, however.

Managing Pages

The top big button on the left-side toolbar lets you manage and add site pages. When you add a page, you can see and set its URL, choose a template (Home, Contact, About, Blank), password-protect the page, and even specify a custom header. One limitation is that you can’t drag and drop page entries around to change the navigation. You can set any page as the home page, but there’s no nesting pages under others from the Pages menu. You can do this from the Website Settings panel, though adding subpages is less straightforward than in Wix and some other competing services.

Working With Images

Like the better site builders, Simvoly maintains an online repository of photos you’ve uploaded, so that you can reuse them elsewhere on your site. You can upload multiple images at once and create subfolders for organizing them. One missing feature is the ability to use images from online services such as Flickr. You can apply slick animations like slide in, fade in, and zoom to images. You can also resize images (relative to other columns alongside them) on the page by dragging their left or right edges.

One feature that many users will probably want is completely missing, however. There isn’t any kind of photo editing. You can’t even rotate an image. Most services I’ve reviewed include an integrated online image editor such as Aviary. It’s fine to expect people to use installed photo software, but simple stuff like cropping and rotating should be included.

Gallery options include grids with text or carousels. You can add them either via drag-and-drop from the toolbar or from the “+” content button that appears when you hover over a content block. The latter offers more preset layout options. With either, you can change image padding and the number of images per row. There’s also a light-box check box, to let your site viewers see a full-window slideshow. This is just about everything most site builders could want.

Video is only via hosted links: Simvoly only hosts still images. Also, aside from some template’s sample photos, you don’t get a selection of stock photography like that offered by Wix, Duda, and other competitors.

Automatic Sites

Simvoly’s Magic Website Wizard is a beta tool that takes you through a few questions to generate a site automatically. You first choose a type such as Business, Personal, Photography, or Portfolio. More types are in development. After the main category selection, you enter a more specific site purpose. I first chose Business, and then, when entering the more specific type, suggestions dropped down. For example, I typed “cloth” and Sport Clothing and Apparel, Women’s Clothing, and Clothing and Apparel dropped down as suggestions.

Next you choose how you want the main navigation to look—with the menu across the top or along a side. The wizard proposes a design template, and then it’s time to log in. After this, you’re taken to the site builder interface described in the rest of this article. Magic Website can be a nice little timesaver, but it pales in comparison to Wix’s impressive AI-powered ADI system. With Wix, you simply input your business or personal info, and presto, you get a surprisingly well-designed site.

Site Settings and Options

On the Website Settings tab, you can choose whether you want your site to fill the full width of the browser or stay contained in a fixed box, for which you can choose a background color or image. You can also change the header site navigation menu, and upload a custom favicon, that tiny icon that appears in the browser tab.

Awkwardly, getting a custom domain, which is included with a subscription, requires contacting the Simvoly staff, rather than simply applying online. I also prefer builders to have me fill out a short form of the site or business details, such as name, address, phone number, and contact email. Not doing this is not a deal breaker, but it speeds up the building process. You can also hook up your Simvoly site to a domain you’ve previously registered with another website hosting service.

Selling on Your Site

Selling on Simvoly is easy and powerful. I’m impressed that the site builder lets you sell digital downloads without an account upgrade like some other services require. As with the blog, your Simvoly site by default includes a Store page, but you can delete it if you’re not selling anything. I did run into a couple script errors when editing product description text, but this was an isolated incident that I didn’t see again in later testing.

You can add product variations, enter sale prices, and keep track of inventory with Simvoly’s store engine. And, of course, you can upload an image for every product—multiple images if you like. Product pages come with basic sections that make sense, but you can add any kind of content block you want. You get a few choices of layout and styling. In addition to the full-page shopping cart, there’s a mini cart that can appear in the top right corner of the browser window.

The two best payment services—PayPal and Stripe—are integrated into the store. You can enter a bank account routing number so the lucre flows directly into your coffers. It’s also easy to set up shipping costs based on weight or price, but there’s no integration with Fedex, UPS, or USPS. Tax setup could use a little more work, too. As it is, you can add a tax based on the country, but that doesn’t help for the US, where each state has its own sales tax. Fortunately, you only have to collect tax on web sales in states where you have a physical presence, so small proprietors would normally just have to fill in one state’s sales tax rate.

Blogging

My clothing-site template came with a Blog page. You can only have one blog page per site, but you can add a blog block to any of your pages, using a content block. You get some attractive layout choices. Each post can have a large image to the left, and you can stack posts vertically, or use a trendy “masonry” layout that is offset like bricks in a wall, with or without a sidebar.

Posts should have a photo, quote, or video to bring the reader in, but text-only posts are allowed. The interface gently encourages you to spice up your post with media. You can save a post as a draft for later publishing, but you can’t schedule a time and date for automatic publication.

Posts must have tags, must fall into categories, and can have comments, which you can approve. Readers can enter their email address in a box on any of your blog pages to get email notifications about new posts.

Publishing

Before publishing your site, you can preview it by pressing a big button with an eye for an icon in the left rail. But the builder is so WYSIWYG that you may not even need to do this. When you do preview, you can see how the site looks on tablet and mobile screen sizes as well as desktop, however. One thing that Simvoly does that I’m not a fan of is to publish your site live as soon as you start working on it. I prefer the ability to preview and fine-tune before the site goes live. Even the ability to create an Under Construction page would be preferable.

Mobile Site Design

As with most site builders that use responsive page designs, Simvoly automatically spits out websites that look great in mobile browsers. My test site looked great on an iPhone, and it even included a hamburger menu for handheld operation, so it’s not just a simple site-squeezing, as Virb’s mobile sites are. Still, Simvoly doesn’t offer any customization of your mobile presentation, as Duda, , and Wix do. Sometimes you want to remove content that doesn’t work well on mobile screens.

Stats and SEO

Unlike many site builders that leave setting up traffic monitoring to you, Simvoly includes a decent set of site-visit stats on your Dashboard. You can see overall traffic by date range, top pages, and even what devices and browsers are being used to view your site. One thing you don’t get is a breakdown of user stats such as geographic location or repeat visits. You can hook up a Google Analytics account if you want that level of detail. There isn’t much at all in the way of SEO help, though. You can, however, set the meta title and meta description for each page in its Settings dialog.

Easy, Attractive DIY Websites

Simvoly is far from being a household name in the website-building arena, but it deserves your attention if you’re a non-technical person looking to establish an easy, attractive web presence. It offers responsive-design themes that look good on both desktop and mobile browsers, offers decent selling tools, and has built in site stats. As a fairly new offering, it still lacks a few niceties like photo editing, onsite domain registration, shipping integrations, and a gallery of third-party widgets, but there’s still a lot to like here. Simvoly is highly recommended, but for more mature, fully fledged options in the site-building space, check out Editors’ Choice web builders Duda and Wix.

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