30th Apr 2007 | 23:00
Security software that takes care of itself
Symantec has long been marketing its Norton Internet Security (NIS) package as a complete security solution, keeping you protected against online threats.
Competition from Microsoft Live OneCare and McAfee Total Protection 2007 has persuaded the company that NIS isn't quite complete enough, though, and now it's fighting back with Norton 360. You might have assumed this would simply be NIS with a few extra features. But then you'd be wrong.
Symantec says Norton 360 has been designed with inexperienced PC users in mind, and that's obvious from the moment it's installed. A system tray icon changes colour to deliver quick feedback about your system status (green = good, red = bad), for example.
Double-clicking this opens the main Norton 360 screen, where system status is broken down into four areas: PC Security, Transaction Security, Backup and Restore, and PC Tuneup. Each of these has a separate status indicator (hopefully the same green tick) and is described simply, with absolutely no complex or dangerous options anywhere in sight.
Norton 360 includes the full Norton Antivirus engine, for instance, one of the most accurate malware detection tools around, which found and removed everything we threw at it. And while Norton's firewall doesn't lead the market in quite the same way, it's capable enough, and does an excellent job in automatically sorting out which programs get to go online and which don't; you won't get pop-ups asking if 'svchost.exe' can have permission to open an Internet connection.
The suite also installs an antiphishing browser toolbar, which reports accurately on the safety of websites as you visit them, but there's no support for browsers other than Internet Explorer. And other components proved even less inspiring: the spam filter has too many false positives, the parental controls are limited, and the adblocker is barely any better than the freeware competition.
One major addition to Norton 360 comes in the form of a backup tool and initially this looks very impressive. There's no trawling round your system looking for fi les and folders to save, for instance: just check boxes like Pictures, Music or Emails and the program handles everything else for you.
It backs up to local or network drives, CDs, DVDs, or even online (2GB of free space is thrown in). Great; until you try to configure a backup and problems quickly appear.
In order that you only have to check a box to save all your videos, say, Norton 360 must first search your entire hard drive for video files. On our test system that meant a two-minute delay before we could do anything. It also seems a little buggy.
We tried an email backup of our email contacts only, then watched while the program also saved more than 40 MB of MPA files it had found in a folder on our desktop, inflating our backup time by around 30 minutes. Not what we wanted to see.
The PC Tuneup section features four tuneups, all of which can be performed elsewhere: deleting Internet history, cleaning up Internet temporary files, wiping forgotten Windows temporary files and defragmenting your hard drive. It's a reasonable idea to put these in one place, but otherwise they're not likely to have a significant effect on your system performance.
Knowledgeable users may get irritated by the way Norton 360 keeps you away from anything complicated. The firewall, for instance, is very configurable, but you have to find the settings first (they're hidden behind a nest of other dialogs). And the main screen displays messages like '5 issues need to be resolved. Norton 360 will resolve them automatically...', without telling you what those issues are, or providing any obvious way to find out.
Knowledgeable users should stick with Norton Internet Security 2007. Beginners will find Norton 360 appealing. There's no need to do anything, no complex options to configure, not even any schedules to set up: Norton 360 carries out tasks such as virus scanning and defragging in the background whenever your PC is idle.
You really can't beat Norton 360 for simplicity: there's no better security suite around for the PC novice.