Installation requires that you give AOL your e-mail address; it will in exchange send you an activation code good for a year of product updates. AOL may also send you additional information on other security products yet to be offered. When you download the Active Virus Shield, AOL offers Internet Explorer users an additional toolbar that will show a real-time update on your computer's security status via Active Security Monitor, a password manager, a pop-up blocker, and a link to the Whois domain registration database to find more information on potentially suspicious sites.
While it doesn't match what you get if you'd paid, AOL gives you a much better package than you'd expect for free. Like the free version of Grisoft AVG, AOL Active Virus Shield provides real-time protection against active virus threats, meaning the program constantly scans your system for malware as opposed to waiting until you open an infected file, and it also protects against e-mail viruses. Like the paid antivirus programs, AOL Active Virus Shield can pause its antivirus protection for a predetermined time while installing new software, and it allows you to schedule antivirus scans hourly, daily, or weekly, if you prefer. You also get hourly antivirus signature file updates with the AOL product, which is important because other free antivirus apps, such Grisoft AVG, allow only one daily update. In the middle of a widespread virus attack, when a virus might change its signature frequently to avoid detection, you'll appreciate having AOL Active Virus Shield.
What you won't get are rescue disk capabilities; the creation of an emergency boot disk should a virus ka-pow your system is standard with paid antivirus utilities. Also missing are some additional scanning capabilities. But the protection that you do get is good, and AOL Active Virus Shield won't slow your system or otherwise affect its performance. For complete antivirus test results, see our CNET antivirus performance test page.