Norton 360 version 4.0. Windows 7, Vista or XP/SP2. Symantec. $79.99.
Symantec’s top-of-the-line protective product for home computers and small businesses, Norton 360, has been getting steadily better and steadily easier to use through the years. Last year’s software, version 3.0, had so many features and performed so well that it was hard to see what Symantec could add to a new iteration. The answer turns out to be: not much, but what is added is all good.
Norton 360 provides more forms of protection than the venerable Norton AntiVirus alone, and also more than Norton Internet Security offers. Specifically, Norton 360 takes the features of Norton Internet Security and adds backup capability plus PC tuneup that works so effectively that Symantec has stopped making new versions of its comprehensive tuneup utility, Norton SystemWorks. Users won’t buy Norton 360 for backup and tuneup purposes, though. They will buy it for its multiplicity of protections against viruses, spyware, rootkits, hackers and all sorts of malware, plus its effective blocking of phishing sites and its protective layer that woks automatically when your computer is connected to a wireless network. The backup and tuneup features make Norton 360 cost $10 more than Norton Internet Security – a bargain if you will use those added features, an unnecessary expense if you will not.
The best thing about the latest version of Norton 360 was also the best thing about the previous version: it does a lot of very complex tasks, but it does them silently and unobtrusively, in the background, without consuming much computer power and without taking up an unreasonable amount of disc space (the reduction of bloat in Symantec’s Norton line has been a significant accomplishment in recent years). Most users will never see more of the product’s working than its clean, easy-to-understand main screen, which tells you at a glance whether all is in order in four areas: PC Security, Identity Protection, Backup and PC Tuneup. The screen will remind you constantly that you are “at risk” if you do not, for example, set up the product’s backup feature; this is another reason to be sure you really want the backup and tuneup elements of Norton 360 and will use them – otherwise, Norton Internet Security is a better choice. But if you do plan to use all its features, Norton 360 is very cooperative in letting you know immediately whether everything is all right or needs attention.
Much of what is new in version 4.0 comes from Symantec’s commendable effort in recent years to develop high-security techniques for its enterprise customers – that is, for big business and government – and then make essentially those same features available in small-business and consumer products. Thus, Norton 360 version 4.0 offers better real-time malware detection and anti-phishing features and better warning of the possible dangers and performance impacts of Web downloads. The new version also scans somewhat more quickly than earlier ones and has a somewhat better-performing Startup Manager to reduce boot and cold reboot times. It also makes it easy to retrieve Web backups whenever and wherever you wish.
Are these enhancements enough to make an upgrade from version 3.0 to version 4.0 worthwhile? In a word, no. They are enhancements rather than substantial new features, and most of the improvements in version 4.0 are incremental rather than quantum leaps. Users satisfied with version 3.0 may prefer to buy an extra year of its protection – Norton 360 provides only a single year of use on one to three PCs when first purchased – and wait to see whether a later version of the software represents a more significant advance than does version 4.0. Users who have not yet tried Norton 360, though, will be more than happy with the new version – if the price is acceptable. And that has become the standard question to ask about Symantec’s excellent utility products. Virtually all the features of Norton 360 are available piecemeal from other sources for free or at much lower cost. There are excellent free antivirus programs, fine free Web storage offerings, and browser build-ins that accomplish many of the protective functions of Norton 360. But they are piecemeal, and do not always work well together – indeed, they can sometimes slow down your computer or even operate at cross-purposes. Norton 360 is a peace-of-mind purchase: it works well and efficiently, all the parts interact capably, and once you install it and do some minimal setup (primarily in its backup utility), you need never look at it again unless you want to check on something specific or change some settings. Like an insurance policy against online disaster, Norton 360 is a comforting product to have – and that will be worth its $80 cost to a great many people and small businesses. People who prefer to tailor their Internet security to their own needs, or who are willing to put up with multiple downloads and regular checks for newer versions of free or inexpensive products, can duplicate most of what Norton 360 offers for less money. And some free or inexpensive products really do work well together, such as CCleaner (which removes duplicative and unneeded files) and Defraggler (which improves system performance), both from Piriform. Furthermore, FileHippo’s UpdateChecker makes it easy to look for newer versions of downloaded software. But how much time do you want to spend running these and similar programs, looking for newer versions, and doing installations? If the answer is “none,” you will find Norton 360 version 4.0 to be a one-stop, elegant protective solution that will be well worth the cost – and will impress you with its smooth operation and overall excellence of functionality.