Integrating Email Campaigns with New and Existing Mediums

Gold Lasso Inc., a leading provider of on-demand email marketing software, has just released a new white paper focusing on the why’s and how’s of email integration with other marketing mediums. Advances in technology, and a reliance on mobile devices and social networking are forcing marketers to take advantage of new outlets and “integrate” them into email marketing campaigns.

“We decided to publish this white paper because integrating on and offline marketing channels is not the future – it’s the present,” says Elie Ashery, president and CEO of Gold Lasso. “Readers will be able to better understand integrating email with other communication mediums, how marketers can incorporate these technologies into their campaigns, and how integration should and should not be used.”

Integration incorporates a multi-channel approach that may include several of the following: email marketing, direct mail, social networking, blogging, search, advertising, article/editorial placement, exhibiting at tradeshows and face-to face communication. The important part is that the approach involves evaluating an audience, segmenting it by the channel best suited for each segment, creating messages tailored to each segment, and, most importantly, recording and integrating the results and evaluation data for the entire campaign.

“Data is key. The more data that is available, the better the chance the marketer has of honing the message and delivery medium and achieving positive results. That’s why it is extremely important to integrate all the data from each communication medium,” says Ashery. “While it might seem that an IT department might need to be heavily involved in this process, the truth is that many ESP’s offer solutions that make integration easier. Marketers just need to know to ask.”

Marketers need to remember that using a variety of communication mediums does not mean the campaign is integrated. Successful results will be achieved when lists are compiled based on a host of both demographic and behavioral variables, and results tracked to know if customer Y made a purchase or acted on a message. “The risk for marketers is that with increased clutter, failing to integrate their campaigns will result in wasted dollars and a lower ROI,” says Ashery.

One way marketers can practice integration is coupling their email efforts with web analytics to reduce shopping cart abandonment. If a visitor abandons a shopping cart on a retailer’s web site, the retailer can automatically send a timely email offering the visitor an incentive to complete the transaction. Co-registration, which is quickly evolving as one of the best ways to organically grow a marketing list, allows visitors to share their contact information with advertisers specifically selected for the site. From there, marketers can use email for immediate follow-up while a visitor’s interest is piqued. Social Networking is being used by all ages to facilitate contact with friends, business associates and for networking. The benefit of integrating email marketing tools with social networking sites is that these sites send emails to registered users when their “friends” make updates to their online profiles, thus encouraging additional, timely interaction increasing the value of the network.

“The constant in technology is that it is always advancing,” comments Ashery. “Marketers have to be flexible, and educate themselves on the tools that are available to make their campaigns successful. The basis of integration is fairly simple, and a marketer’s vendors might already be able to assist in many of the areas discussed in the white paper. ”

“Integrating Email Campaigns with New and Existing Mediums: A review of the why’s and how’s of email integration with other marketing mediums” is available for download at http://www.goldlasso.com.

About Gold Lasso
Gold Lasso, Inc., located in Gaithersburg, MD, is an interactive technology marketing firm that started operations in 2002. The company primarily services the association, publishing, retail, education, finance and hospitality industries. For more information, visit the Gold Lasso Web site at http://www.goldlasso.com or call 301-990-9857

Build Opt-In Email Lists

Building quality opt-in lists is one of the most challenging aspects of email marketing. Any educated email marketer knows that purchasing a list, even one that is so called “permissioned,” is a big “faux pas” and can tarnish your email sending reputation and drastically hurt deliverability. So what’s an email marketer to do when they need to grow their lists but don’t have a year or so to do it organically?

Fortunately, some very creative marketers came up with the idea of co-registration, the practice of syndicating your opt-in offer where it appears alongside or after the opt-in form of another website. The idea behind this is that since it’s difficult and time consuming to get people to come to your website to opt-in, it is easier to syndicate your opt-in offer across a host of contextually relevant websites. If done properly, co-registration has proven to be an extremely effective way to grow your email lists.

RegReady is the only co-registration network to offer the most ethical and efficient way to grow a pure opt-in email list. Aside fromm transparency (with RegReady you know where your email addresses are coming from), RegReady is 100% true opt-in because website visitors are indicating that they want to hear from your company, not an intermediary. You get the person’s email address as soon as they opt-in allowing immediate follow-up confirming their opt-in.  This closes the communication loop.

Below are some best practices to ensure your co-registration success:

  1. Make sure your co-registration offers are accurate. If you say you will send email once a week make sure these recipients don’t end up on your daily list.
  2. Know where your opt-in email addresses are coming from so that you can reference the website in your introductory email. This will minimize list attrition and remind the person that they opted into you list. RegReady allows your to do this.
  3. Send the introductory email as soon as possible. “Out of site, out of mind” and people will forget that they opted-in or will lose interest.
  4. Do not have the opt-in checkbox pre-marked and don’t use an ad network with this practice. If someone doesn’t click a checkbox to say that they want to hear from you then they probably don’t want to hear from you. It’s simply wasted money. All RegReady ads are marked to “No” forcing website visitors to click “Yes” to opt-in.

Windows 7 Review

What if a new version of Windows didn’t try to dazzle you? What if, instead, it tried to disappear except when you needed it? Such an operating system would dispense with glitzy effects in favor of low-key, useful new features. Rather than pelting you with alerts, warnings, and requests, it would try to stay out of your face. And if any bundled applications weren’t essential, it would dump ’em.

It’s not a what-if scenario. Windows 7, set to arrive on new PCs and as a shrinkwrapped upgrade on October 22, has a minimalist feel and attempts to fix an noyances old and new. In contrast, Windows Vista offered a flashy new interface, but its poor performance, compatibility gotchas, and lack of compelling features made some folks regret upgrading and others refuse to leave Windows XP.

Windows 7 is hardly flawless. Some features feel unfinished; others won’t realize their potential without heavy lifting by third parties. And some long-standing annoyances remain intact. But overall, the final shipping version I test-drove appears to be the worthy successor to Windows XP that Vista never was.

Microsoft’s release of Windows 7 also roughly coincides with Apple’s release of its new Snow Leopard; for a visual comparison of the two operating systems, see our slideshow “Snow Leopard Versus Windows 7.” Of course, an OS can’t be a winner if it turns a zippy PC into a slowpoke or causes installation nightmares. Consult “Windows 7 Performance Tests” for Windows 7 performance test results, and “How to Upgrade to Windows 7” for hands-on advice on the best way to install it. Read on here for an in-depth look at how Microsoft has changed its OS–mostly for the better–in Windows 7.

Interface: The New Taskmaster

The Windows experience occurs mainly in its Taskbar–especially in the Start menu and System Tray. Vista gave the Start menu a welcome redesign; in Windows 7, the Taskbar and the System Tray get a thorough makeover.

The new Windows Taskbar; click for full-size image.The new Taskbar replaces the old small icons and text labels for running apps with larger, unlabeled icons. If you can keep the icons straight, the new design painlessly reduces Taskbar clutter. If you don’t like it, you can shrink the icons and/or bring the labels back.

In the past, you could get one-click access to programs by dragging their icons to the Quick Launch toolbar. Windows 7 eliminates Quick Launch and folds its capabilities into the Taskbar. Drag an app’s icon from the Start menu or desktop to the Taskbar, and Windows will pin it there, so you can launch the program without rummaging around in the Start menu. You can also organize icons in the Taskbar by moving them to new positions.

To indicate that a particular application on the Taskbar is running, Windows draws a subtle box around its icon–so subtle, in fact, that figuring out whether the app is running can take a moment, especially if its icon sits between two icons for running apps.

In Windows Vista, hovering the mouse pointer over an application’s Taskbar icon produces a thumbnail window view known as a Live Preview. But when you have multiple windows open, you see only one preview at a time. Windows 7’s version of this feature is slicker and more efficient: Hover the pointer on an icon, and thumbnails of the app’s windows glide into position above the Taskbar, so you can quickly find the one you’re looking for. (The process would be even simpler if the thumbnails were larger and easier to decipher.)

Also new in Windows 7’s Taskbar is a feature called Jump Lists. These menus resemble the context-sensitive ones you get when you right-click within various Windows applications, except that you don’t have to be inside an app to use them. Internet Explorer 8’s Jump List, for example, lets you open the browser and load a fresh tab, initiate an InPrivate stealth browsing session, or go directly to any of eight frequently visited Web pages. Non-Microsoft apps can offer Jump Lists, too, if their developers follow the guidelines for creating them.

Other Windows 7 interface adjustments are minor, yet so sensible that you may wonder why Windows didn’t include them all along. Shove a window into the left or right edge of the screen and it’ll expand to fill half of your desktop. Nudge another into the opposite edge of the screen, and it’ll expand to occupy the other half. That makes comparing two windows’ contents easy. If you nudge a window into the top of the screen, it will maximize to occupy all of the display’s real estate.

The extreme right edge of the Taskbar now sports a sort of nub; hover over it, and open windows become transparent, revealing the desktop below. (Microsoft calls this feature Aero Peek.) Click the nub, and the windows scoot out of the way, giving you access to documents or apps that reside on the desktop and duplicating the Show Desktop feature that Quick Launch used to offer.

Getting at your desktop may soon be come even more important than it was in the past. That’s because Windows 7 does away with the Sidebar, the portion of screen space that Windows Vista reserved for Gadgets such as a photo viewer and a weather applet. Instead of occupying the Sidebar, Gadgets now sit directly on the desktop, where they don’t compete with other apps for precious screen real estate.

Old Tray, New Tricks: Windows 7’s Taskbar and window management tweaks are nice. But its changes to the System Tray–aka the Notification Area–have a huge positive effect.

System Tray changes; click for full-size image.In the past, no feature of Windows packed more frustration per square inch than the System Tray. It quickly grew dense with applets that users did not want in the first place, and many of the uninvited guests employed word balloons and other intrusive methods to alert users to uninteresting facts at inopportune moments. At their worst, System Tray applets behaved like belligerent squatters, and Windows did little to put users back in charge.

In Windows 7, applets can’t pester you unbidden because software installers can’t dump them into the System Tray. Instead, applets land in a holding pen that appears only when you click it, a much-improved version of the overflow area used in previous incarnations of the Tray. App lets in the pen can’t float word balloons at you unless you permit them to do so. It’s a cinch to drag them into the System Tray or out of it again, so you enjoy complete control over which applets reside there.

More good news: Windows 7 largely dispenses with the onslaught of word-balloon warnings from the OS about troubleshooting issues, potential security problems, and the like. A new area called Action Center–a revamped version of Vista’s Security Center–queues up such alerts so you can deal with them at your convenience. Action Center does issue notifications of its own from the System Tray, but you can shut these off if you don’t want them pestering you.

All of this helps make Windows 7 the least distracting, least intrusive Microsoft OS in a very long time. It’s a giant step forward from the days when Windows thought nothing of interrupting your work to inform you that it had de tected unused icons on your desktop.

File Management: The Library System
Compared to the Taskbar and the System Tray, Explorer hasn’t changed much in Windows 7. However, its left pane does sport two new ways to get at your files: Libraries and HomeGroups.

Libraries could just as appropriately have been called File Cabinets, since they let you collect related folders in one place. By default, you get Libraries labeled Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos, each of which initially di rects you to the OS’s standard folders for storing the named items–such as My Pictures and Public Pictures.

To benefit from Libraries, you have to customize them. Right-click any folder on your hard drive, and you can add it to any Library; for instance, you can transform the Pictures Library into a collection of all your folders that contain photos. You can create additional Libraries of your own from scratch, such as one that bundles up all folders that relate to your vacation plans.

Libraries would be even more useful if Microsoft had integrated them with Saved Searches, the Windows feature (introduced in Vista) that lets you create virtual folders based on searches, such as one that tracks down every .jpg image file on your system. But while Windows 7 lets you add standard folders to a Library, it doesn’t support Saved Searches.

HomeGroups, Swee HomeGroups? Closely related to Libraries are HomeGroups, a new feature designed to simplify the notoriously tricky process of networking Windows PCs. Machines that are part of one HomeGroup can selectively grant each other read or read/write access to their Libraries and to the folders they contain, so you can perform such mundane but important tasks as providing your spouse with ac cess to a folderful of tax documents on your computer. HomeGroups can also stream media, enabling you to pipe music or a movie off the desktop in the den onto your notebook in the living room. And they let you share a printer connected to one PC with all the other computers in the HomeGroup, a useful feature if you can’t connect the printer directly to the network.

HomeGroups aren’t a bad idea, but Windows 7’s implementation seems half-baked. HomeGroups are password-protected, but rather than inviting you to specify a password of your choice during initial setup, Windows assigns you one consisting of ten characters of alphanumeric gibberish and instructs you to write it down so you won’t forget it. To be fair, passwords made up of random characters provide excellent security, and the only time you need the password is when you first connect a new PC to a HomeGroup. But it’s still a tad peculiar that you can’t specify a password you’ll remember during setup–you can do that only after the fact, in a different part of the OS. More annoying and limiting: HomeGroups won’t work unless all of the PCs in question are running Windows 7, a scenario that won’t be typical anytime soon. A version that also worked on XP, Vista, and Mac systems would have been cooler.

Federated Search, a new Windows Explorer feature, feels incomplete, too. It uses the Open Search standard to give Win 7’s search “connectors” for external sources. That capability allows you to search sites such as Flickr and YouTube from within Explorer. Pretty neat–except that Windows 7 doesn’t come with any of the connectors you’d need to add these sources, nor with any way of finding them. (They are available on the Web, though. Use a search engine to track them down.)

Security: UAC Gets Tolerable
Speaking of annoying Windows features, let’s talk about User Account Control–the Windows Vista security element that was a poster child for everything that rankled people about that OS. UAC aimed to prevent rogue software from tampering with your PC by endlessly prompting you to approve running applications or changing settings. The experience was so grating that many users preferred to turn UAC off and take their chances with Internet attackers. Those who left it active risked slipping into the habit of incautiously clicking through every prompt, defeating whatever value the feature might have had.

Windows 7 gives you control over UAC, in the form of a slider containing four security settings. As before, you can accept the full-blown UAC or elect to disable it. But you can also tell UAC to notify you only when software changes Windows settings, not when you’re tweaking them yourself. And you can instruct it not to perform the abrupt screen-dimming effect that Vista’s version uses to grab your attention.

If Microsoft had its druthers, all Windows 7 users would use UAC in full-tilt mode: The slider that you use to ratchet back its severity advises you not to do so if you routinely install new software or visit unfamiliar sites, and it warns that disabling the dimming effect is “Not recommended.” Speak for yourself, Redmond: I have every intention of recommending the intermediate settings to most people who ask me for advice, since those settings retain most of UAC’s theoretical value without driving users bonkers.

Other than salvaging UAC, Microsoft has made relatively few significant changes to Windows 7’s security system. One meaningful improvement: BitLocker, the drive-encryption tool included only in Windows 7 Ultimate and the corporate-oriented Windows 7 Enterprise, lets you en crypt USB drives and hard disks, courtesy of a feature called BitLocker to Go. It’s one of the few good reasons to prefer Win 7 Ultimate to Home Premium or Professional.

Internet Explorer 8, Windows 7’s default browser, includes many security-related enhancements, including a new SmartScreen Filter (which blocks dangerous Web sites) and InPrivate Browsing (which permits you to use IE without leaving traces of where you’ve been or what you’ve done). Of course, IE 8 is equally at home in XP and Vista–and it’s free–so it doesn’t constitute a reason to upgrade to Windows 7.

Applications: The Fewer the Merrier
Here’s a startling indication of how different an upgrade Windows 7 is: Rather than larding it up with new applications, Microsoft eliminated three nonessential programs: Windows Mail (née Outlook Express), Windows Movie Maker (which premiered in Windows Me), and Windows Photo Gallery.

Users who don’t want to give them up can find all three at live.windows.com as free Windows Live Essentials downloads. They may even come with your new PC, courtesy of deals Microsoft is striking with PC manufacturers. But since they are no longer tied to the leisurely release schedules of Windows, they are far less likely than most bundled Windows apps to remain mired in definitely in an underachieving state.

Still present–and nicely spruced up–are the operating system’s two applications for consuming audio and video, Windows Media Player and Windows Media Center. Windows Media Player 12 has a revised interface that divides operations into a Library view for media management and a Now Playing view for listening and watching stuff. Minimize the player into the Taskbar, and you get mini player controls and a Jump List, both of which let you control background music without having to leave the app you’re in. Microsoft has added support for several media types that Media Player 11 didn’t support, including AAC audio and H.264 video–the formats it needs to play unprotected music and movies from Apple’s iTunes Store.

Media Center–not part of the bargain-basement Windows 7 Starter Edition–remains most useful if you have a PC configured with a TV tuner card and you use your computer to record TV shows à la TiVo. Among its enhancements are a better program guide and support for more tuners.

Windows Vista’s oddly underpowered Backup and Restore Center let users specify particular types of files to back up (such as ‘Music’ and ‘Documents’) but not specific files or folders. Though Microsoft corrects that deficiency in Windows 7, it deprives Windows 7 Starter Edition and Home Premium of the ability to back up to a network drive. That feels chintzy, like a car company cutting back on an economy sedan’s airbags. It also continues the company’s long streak of issuing versions of Windows that lack a truly satisfying backup utility.

The new version of Paint has Office 2007’s Ribbon toolbar and adds various prefabricated geometric shapes and a few natural-media tools, such as a watercolor brush. But my regimen for preparing a new Windows PC for use will still include installing the impressive free image editor Paint.Net.

The nearest thing Windows 7 has to a major new application has the intriguing moniker Windows XP Mode. It’s not a way to make Windows 7 look like XP–you can do that with the Windows Classic theme–but rather a way to let it run XP programs that are otherwise incompatible with Win 7. Unfortunately, only Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate offer it, and even then it comes as an optional 350MB download that requires you to have Microsoft’s free Virtual PC software installed and that only works on PCs with Intel or AMD virtualization technology enabled in the BIOS.

Once active, XP Mode lets Windows 7 run apps that supposedly aren’t compatible by launching them in separate windows that contain a virtualized version of XP. Microsoft clearly means for the mode to serve as a security blanket for business types who rely on ancient, often proprietary programs that may never be rewritten for current OSs.

Device Management: Setting the Stage
Windows 7 offers you numerous ways to connect your PC to everything from tiny flash drives to hulking networked laser printers–USB, Wi-Fi, ethernet, slots, and more. Devices and Printers, a new section of the Control Panel, represents connected gadgets with the largest icons I’ve ever seen in an operating system. (When possible, they’re 3D renderings of the device; the one for Sansa’s Clip MP3 player is almost life-size.)

More important, the OS introduces Device Stages–hardware-wrangling dashboards tailored to specific items of hardware, and designed by their manufacturers in collaboration with Micro soft. A Device Stage for a digital camera, for instance, may include a battery gauge, a shortcut to Windows’ image-downloading tools, and links to online resources such as manuals, support sites, and the manufacturer’s accessory store.

You don’t need to rummage through the Control Panel or through Devices and Printers to use a Device Stage–that feature’s functionality is integrated into Windows 7’s new Taskbar. Plug in a device, and it will show up as a Taskbar icon; right-click that icon, and the Device Stage’s content will at once ap pear as a Jump List-like menu.

Unfortunately, Device Stages were the one major part of Windows 7 that didn’t work during my hands-on time with the final version of the OS. Earlier prerelease versions of Win 7 contained a handful of Device Stages, but Microsoft disabled them so that hardware manufacturers could finish up final ones before the OS hit store shelves in October. The feature will be a welcome improvement if device manufacturers hop on the bandwagon–and a major disappointment if they don’t.

Even if Device Stages take off, most of their benefit may come as you invest in new gizmos–Microsoft says that it’s encouraging manufacturers to create Device Stages for upcoming products, not existing ones. At least some older products should get Device Stages, though: Canon, for instance, told me that it’s planning to build them for most of its printers. And Microsoft says that when no full-fledged Device Stage is available for a particular item, Windows 7 will still try to give you a more generic and basic one.

Applications: The Fewer the Merrier
Here’s a startling indication of how different an upgrade Windows 7 is: Rather than larding it up with new applications, Microsoft eliminated three nonessential programs: Windows Mail (née Outlook Express), Windows Movie Maker (which premiered in Windows Me), and Windows Photo Gallery.

Users who don’t want to give them up can find all three at live.windows.com as free Windows Live Essentials downloads. They may even come with your new PC, courtesy of deals Microsoft is striking with PC manufacturers. But since they are no longer tied to the leisurely release schedules of Windows, they are far less likely than most bundled Windows apps to remain mired in definitely in an underachieving state.

Still present–and nicely spruced up–are the operating system’s two applications for consuming audio and video, Windows Media Player and Windows Media Center. Windows Media Player 12 has a revised interface that divides operations into a Library view for media management and a Now Playing view for listening and watching stuff. Minimize the player into the Taskbar, and you get mini player controls and a Jump List, both of which let you control background music without having to leave the app you’re in. Microsoft has added support for several media types that Media Player 11 didn’t support, including AAC audio and H.264 video–the formats it needs to play unprotected music and movies from Apple’s iTunes Store.

Media Center–not part of the bargain-basement Windows 7 Starter Edition–remains most useful if you have a PC configured with a TV tuner card and you use your computer to record TV shows à la TiVo. Among its enhancements are a better program guide and support for more tuners.

Windows Vista’s oddly underpowered Backup and Restore Center let users specify particular types of files to back up (such as ‘Music’ and ‘Documents’) but not specific files or folders. Though Microsoft corrects that deficiency in Windows 7, it deprives Windows 7 Starter Edition and Home Premium of the ability to back up to a network drive. That feels chintzy, like a car company cutting back on an economy sedan’s airbags. It also continues the company’s long streak of issuing versions of Windows that lack a truly satisfying backup utility.

The new version of Paint has Office 2007’s Ribbon toolbar and adds various prefabricated geometric shapes and a few natural-media tools, such as a watercolor brush. But my regimen for preparing a new Windows PC for use will still include installing the impressive free image editor Paint.Net.

The nearest thing Windows 7 has to a major new application has the intriguing moniker Windows XP Mode. It’s not a way to make Windows 7 look like XP–you can do that with the Windows Classic theme–but rather a way to let it run XP programs that are otherwise incompatible with Win 7. Unfortunately, only Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate offer it, and even then it comes as an optional 350MB download that requires you to have Microsoft’s free Virtual PC software installed and that only works on PCs with Intel or AMD virtualization technology enabled in the BIOS.

Once active, XP Mode lets Windows 7 run apps that supposedly aren’t compatible by launching them in separate windows that contain a virtualized version of XP. Microsoft clearly means for the mode to serve as a security blanket for business types who rely on ancient, often proprietary programs that may never be rewritten for current OSs.

Device Management: Setting the Stage
Windows 7 offers you numerous ways to connect your PC to everything from tiny flash drives to hulking networked laser printers–USB, Wi-Fi, ethernet, slots, and more. Devices and Printers, a new section of the Control Panel, represents connected gadgets with the largest icons I’ve ever seen in an operating system. (When possible, they’re 3D renderings of the device; the one for Sansa’s Clip MP3 player is almost life-size.)

More important, the OS introduces Device Stages–hardware-wrangling dashboards tailored to specific items of hardware, and designed by their manufacturers in collaboration with Micro soft. A Device Stage for a digital camera, for instance, may include a battery gauge, a shortcut to Windows’ image-downloading tools, and links to online resources such as manuals, support sites, and the manufacturer’s accessory store.

You don’t need to rummage through the Control Panel or through Devices and Printers to use a Device Stage–that feature’s functionality is integrated into Windows 7’s new Taskbar. Plug in a device, and it will show up as a Taskbar icon; right-click that icon, and the Device Stage’s content will at once ap pear as a Jump List-like menu.

Unfortunately, Device Stages were the one major part of Windows 7 that didn’t work during my hands-on time with the final version of the OS. Earlier prerelease versions of Win 7 contained a handful of Device Stages, but Microsoft disabled them so that hardware manufacturers could finish up final ones before the OS hit store shelves in October. The feature will be a welcome improvement if device manufacturers hop on the bandwagon–and a major disappointment if they don’t.

Even if Device Stages take off, most of their benefit may come as you invest in new gizmos–Microsoft says that it’s encouraging manufacturers to create Device Stages for upcoming products, not existing ones. At least some older products should get Device Stages, though: Canon, for instance, told me that it’s planning to build them for most of its printers. And Microsoft says that when no full-fledged Device Stage is available for a particular item, Windows 7 will still try to give you a more generic and basic one.

AVG Antivirus 9.0 Review

AVG Free provides the bare necessities when it comes to security, but that should be enough for savvy Windows users. You’ll get a combined antivirus and antimalware engine, LinkScanner, and e-mail scanning. AVG Free 9 introduces a few new features, with improvements focused on performance, including claims of faster scan and boot times. One new feature is the Identity Theft Recovery Unit. Only for users in the United States, ITRU is a business partnership with Identity Guard which provides “consumer identity theft solutions,” accessible only from the AVG toolbar in Firefox and Internet Explorer.

The interface is nearly unchanged from the last version, and generally it’s easy to use. From the main window, though, you must double-click to get further information on any feature, whether virus scanning, LinkScanner settings, or updating. Streamlining this to one click would be helpful. A scheduling utility automates both scans and updates, while the upgrade ad at the screen’s bottom can be easily hidden using the Hide Notification button. When starting a scan, a slider makes it easy to jump between Slow, Automatic, and Fast scans: the faster the scan, the less comprehensive it is, so users should take advantage of the scan optimization that is recommended during installation to speed up that first scan. A progress meter for regular scans would’ve been useful, though. Should a virus create serious problems, AVG creates a rescue disk to scan your computer in MS-DOS mode.

The LinkScanner feature protects you from third-party code exploits before they load in your browser and for ranking search results. Annoyingly, when you install its optional toolbar, it commandeers your new-tab page, decidedly inappropriate behavior. The program doesn’t obviously tax your system when scanning or when running in the background, although CNET Labs determined that it will significantly slow down your system’s boot time, and slightly delay shutting down. AVG also detected some image files as threats, when two other scans decided they weren’t–we decided these were false positives. AVG might not be the fastest or the most effective free security option, but it still gets the job done and you’re better off with it.