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Wednesday 14 November 2007 - SiteAdvisor Plus: Great program, shame about the support
SiteAdvisor Plus: Great program, shame about the support
By Steven Burn - November 14th 2007

SiteAdvisor PlusLet me begin by making it clear, I love SiteAdvisor, always have. However, I was recently given a complimentary licence for SiteAdvisor Plus by McAfee for being "among the top 100 McAfee SiteAdvisor reviewers", something I originally thought was great.

The first problem I had with it, was actually downloading it - to do this you MUST download the McAfee download manager, you can't just upgrade directly from the free version. Why was this a problem? simple, once I'd downloaded the DM, I attempted to install it - no go (wasn't planning on writing this article or would've kept a screenshot, and can't re-produce it). Instead, I had to download and run their "Virtual Technician", a little program that apparently fixes problems with their other programs, thankfully it did, and I was able to continue with the installation.

Once the program was enabled, I naturally decided to go through it's options. The first new one I noticed, was Protected Mode.

SiteAdvisor PlusWhen first enabling Protected Mode, you are asked to supply a password (screenshot), nobody would blame you for believing this password is to be used either for disabling this mode, or bypassing it for certain browsers/shells (ala IE's Content Advisor). Well it's not for the latter, this password is strictly for disabling this mode, and if you use anything other than IE, you're going to be needing this password ALOT! (there's apparently a dedicated version of SA Plus for FireFox, but I've neither verified nor checked this, no option was available in the download manager, and I was unable to see any option for this when I downloaded it, there's also apparently no plans for a version of SiteAdvisor for Opera).

When I launched Avant Browser, I was first greeted as is usual, with the Avant Browser splash screen, then err ..... IE?

SiteAdvisor PlusYes, you guessed it - SiteAdvisor closed Avant. No warning, no prompt to ask for the password, just incase I wanted to actually use the damn program I just launched - nothing, it just killed it. To actually use Avant I had to wait for the Unprotected page to actually load (this itself took a couple minutes), then disable Protected Mode.

The fact it closed Avant isn't what annoyed me the most however, it's not even the fact it didn't warn me it was going to do this. What annoyed me the most is that once you've disabled it, if you either re-start your machine, or kill then re-start the SiteAdvisor processes, this mode is automatically re-enabled!.

Annoyed by this, I decided to contact McAfee support - and this is where the fun started. I first sent the following to McAfee;
"Please fix the bug in SiteAdvisor that causes Protected Mode to re-enable itself after a re-boot (when I've told it several times to disable protected mode)!."
Around 4 hours later, I received a reply, telling me it wasn't a bug, but instead, was a "feature"
"This feature is added to the product as an advanced protection feature, which will help users from the trouble of re-logging in after reboot."
Now I know they're joking. I then received an e-mail from them asking me to contact their live chat team, and I duly clicked the link - oh dear. First you've got to select your country and language, nothing wrong there, next you've got to select "Free Internet Chat", and finally, you've got to provide them with some details (e-mail address, name, description of the problem - and for some reason, your phone number??).

So far, with the exception of the phone number, this all seems fine? this isn't going to last. Once you've given them those details, you've then got to download their chat software - whatever happened to Java chat?. The problem I've got with this isn't that you've got to download it, it's that you can't just download it once then use it when needed, nope, you've got to download a fresh copy for each problem you may have, or for example, for followups to a single problem. If you attempt to use the same copy, you're greeted with a lovely little error that informs you "The specified Customer Authorization Token is invalid".

SiteAdvisor PlusGetting back to the support however, I duly logged into the chat, and asked to speak to the supervisor, as the e-mail I'd received had told me to do. I then received a reply;
"Steven, I will be escalating this case. I will be giving you a link that will connect you to my Tier-2 team right away. They will also be able to connect to and troubleshoot your computer remotely. Will that be fine with you?"
Excuse me? they'll be able to do what now? I think not. I informed them I was happy to continue, but obviously, didn't want them connecting to my machine (I'll come back to this). Strangely I was not given any link, but instead up popped the following;
"Kiran Chellappan: Steven, my name is Andy the supervisor. I am here to assist you further."
Huh? okay confused but I continued anyway. Short version of this is he went on for a while, then decided he needed to ask me the e-mail address I'd registered with and couldn't continue yada yada yada (see the transcript here).

Eventually having to give up on that one, I sent a reply to the guy that originally told me to contact live chat, telling him it had been a pointless excercise, ending up simply in me getting frustrated. I received the following;
"I am sorry for the inconvenience caused. As I informed you earlier Siteadvisor is programmed to go back to protected mode on reboot. We dont have a get around for this issue in the current version. I have passed your concern to our senior team and your issue will be concerned when the next version is released."
I then received another reply, once again telling me to contact Live Chat, and providing me the e-mail address to mention to them. I duly did so. This is where it got even more fun.

Not knowing I couldn't use the same software, I tried connecting to the chat, to which I received the "Customer Authorization" error, so I re-downloaded the chat software. Once finally connected (the software had to be re-started twice as I figured 15 mins for it to get past this the first two times, was a little unusual - on the third try, it took 10 mins to get past the authorization), I asked once again, just as I'd been told, to speak to a supervisor. This time I was told;
"Shantu Varghese: I am happy to assist you today with this issue."
At this point I didn't care, I just said fine. However, having waited for a while, I asked if he was actually still there, to which he replied;
"Shantu Varghese: I hope you don't mind if I take a couple of moments to research on it."
Alas, as the transcript shows, it ended up with his sending me to the Tier 2 support, couldn't he have just done that in the first place? I'd already asked him to do that anyway.

To be honest, I wish I'd just given up the first time. I went to Tier 2 as I was told, once again having to download yet another piece of software. Once the software was downloaded, I duly ran it and the first thing it did, was pop up a prompt, which I later found, had asked if I wanted to enable ScreenShare (I'd been informed by the previous CSR that they could do this (not WERE going to do this!), but was on the phone at the time, so wasn't concentrating, and just pressed return - big mistake).

Once again, you can read the transcript here.

Very short version, after I told her that remotely connecting to my machine was not required, and that I simply wanted a solution to a simple problem, the chat, as shown in the transcript, went as follows;
"Rachael Parker: Steven, could you please elaborate your issue.
Customer: I disable protected mode > re-start laptop > Protected mode automatically re-enables itself
Customer: I want this stopped from occuring as I use Avant Browser"
She went silent for a few minutes then ....... oh dear, she didn't just do that did she?
"> representative Rachael Parker asked to share the customer's screen.
> customer Customer declined request to share screen."
Yep, without asking, she tried connecting remotely to my machine (this time I read the damn prompt). Now I was infuriated. You can read the rest of the chat in the transcript, but in short, she told me I'd have to uninstall SiteAdvisor Plus, and install SiteAdvisor (no Plus).

So let me get this straight, to disable Protected Mode in SiteAdvisor, you can't just click "Disable ..." and leave it at that?, nope - if you do go through Live Chat or e-mail support, you are going to be told that the money you just spent (for those that do) on SiteAdvisor Plus, was a complete waste, should you ever decide to leave that mode disabled for whatever reason? Fantastic!.

For those that want to re-produce this "feature", simply do the following;

1. Load SiteAdvisor Plus
2. Enable Protected Mode
3. Disable Protected Mode
4. Either re-start the machine, or kill and re-start SAService.exe and SiteAdv.exe

As a final note to McAfee, let me make a couple of suggestions. Firstly, DO NOT provide an option to disable something if it is not going to stay that way. Second, at the very least, have SiteAdvisor PROMPT to close any other programs when Protected Mode is enabled (it could even ask for a password to stop it closing them! - Content Advisor works that way for websites!), third and most important, IMPROVE YOUR SUPPORT! (and DEFINATELY DO NOT have your support staff automatically try and connect remotely), at the moment they're about as useful as a chocolate fireguard (incidentally, support for SiteAdvisor was MUCH better prior to McAfee's taking over it).

Given all of the above, would I still recommend SiteAdvisor? quite simply yes, I still love it and would still highly recommend it - BUT, I would NOT recommend the Plus version unless you're a sadist.


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