May 24, 2007


Norton 360. Windows Vista or XP. Symantec. $79.95.

      Symantec’s new Norton 360 isn’t really new, but it’s clever marketing and very good technology – although at a high price and with some less-than-generous features. The product is essentially an enhanced version of Norton Internet Security, with the enhancements coming from the excellent Norton Utilities suite of software to help computers run more efficiently. From Norton Internet Security come antivirus, firewall, antiphishing and antispyware software and more. From Norton Utilities come backup and tuneup programs that protect data and keep the clutter on your PC down. The entire Norton 360 package comes with a new user interface – Symantec has been steadily improving these for years – that breaks down what you can do by function rather than by identifying what software is performing what task. Longtime users of Symantec products will find this a simplification, and perhaps one they will not much care about. But Norton 360 reaches out to people who have never before used Symantec’s software, perhaps fearing that it will be difficult to set up, use, maintain and understand (which indeed it has been in the past, although less so in recent years). This is the cleverness of the marketing side of Norton 360: It is specifically aimed at people new to Symantec’s forms of computer protection, and is designed to make them comfortable with a product whose interface is more intuitive than ever and whose operations go on beneath the surface, without requiring constant user updating or tweaking.

      The proliferation of free and low-cost protective technology is a problem for Symantec (and its competitors): why pay for antivirus protection, for example, when you can get a program such as Grisoft’s excellent AVG 7.5 Free Edition for nothing? The answer toward which Symantec has intelligently moved is: simplicity. Install Norton 360 (which takes 300 megabytes of disk space – not that large a number on the newest computers), set it up once, and you can feel safe and protected on a maximum of three PCs. At least for a year.

      Ah, there’s the rub. Eighty dollars is not a small amount to pay for protective software at a time when, if you wish, you can get good programs for little or nothing (provided you are willing to spend some time downloading, installing and maintaining them). The price seems particularly high in light of the fact that it buys you only a single year of protection – after that, you have to buy a license for another year. Furthermore, Symantec skimps on some features: Norton 360 gives you only two gigabytes of online storage for backups – a pittance for people who use their computers for photos, videos and music. If you want more backup capability, you’ll pay $30 for five gigs or $50 for 10. Given the fact that you can get two gigs of secure online storage for exactly zero – for example, through Mozy from Berkeley Data Systems – Norton 360 seems at best ungenerous.

      Symantec is taking a calculated risk with this product – a smart one from a technical and marketing standpoint, but perhaps not from a pricing standpoint. Norton 360 does what it is supposed to do, and does it very well; and its attractive interface and ease of use make it a very good product for families that worry about computer risks but are uncomfortable with any sort of technical involvement in mitigating them. But how much will those families pay for this level of peace of mind? How much is your family willing to pay for a product that protects effectively, but for only one year; and that backs up effectively, but handles only a small amount of the important material you have accumulated on your PC?

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