March 22, 2012


Norton 360, version 6.0. Windows 7/Vista/XP 32-bit. Symantec. $89.99.

     Few people at Symantec today likely remember Peter Norton, who sold his business to the company more than 20 years ago (in 1990); but the Symantec products bearing Norton’s name are the mainstay of the company’s consumer line and the software for which Symantec is best known. Today’s Norton products are also far more versatile and far more capable than Peter Norton’s were – and far, far easier for non-technically-inclined people to use. And Norton 360, version 6.0 may be the easiest of all.

     This new version of Norton 360 is the most comprehensive install-and-that’s-all protective software suite you can buy. Essentially, it is an enhanced version of Norton Internet Security, selling for $20 more on the same subscription basis (usable for one year on up to three computers) and adding two primary things to NIS: backup and tuneup. The backup addition is simple enough: purchasers get two gigabytes of hosted, secure online storage, plus the ability to keep backed-up data on local drives, network drives, or removable media. Two gigs is not very much these days, and this amount is readily available elsewhere for free – from the Mozy division of EMC Corporation, for example. Spending an extra $10 for the Premier edition of Norton 360 ups the amount to 25 gigs; but you can get 25 gigs for free with Microsoft’s SkyDrive, so the value here is arguable. And using either version of Norton 360, version 6.0 creates a quandary, because the online storage disappears if you do not renew your license in one year – you are essentially locking yourself into Symantec’s servers or self-creating the need to find a different form of cloud backup in 12 months. It is hard to see this enhancement as a major selling point.

     The tuneup features, though, are another matter. Norton 360, version 6.0 automatically runs enabled tuneup tasks during a computer’s idle time. This means the software continually defragments hard drives (that is, performs disk optimization) and gets rid of unneeded Windows and Internet Explorer temporary files – small issues in themselves, but ones that grow over time and can eventually slow down responsiveness. Users can tell the software to clean up Internet Explorer history and broken Registry entries automatically as well, or can run these tasks on demand. Norton 360, version 6.0 also includes a very good startup manager, which lists all programs that launch automatically at boot and reports how much of the computer’s resources each uses – making it easy to turn off automatic launch of any unnecessary or resource-hogging program, or to set it for delayed start to speed boot time. Also very helpful is a diagnostic report that checks the status of various elements of the computer, including the operating system, hardware and network connectivity; if problems are found, the software helps you fix them.

     Do these tuneup features, plus the backup provision, make Norton 360, version 6.0 a better buy than Norton Internet Security 2012? The answer depends on each user: someone who will not use the added elements will be fine with NIS, while someone who will use them frequently will prefer Norton 360, version 6.0. Another reason to opt for Norton 360, version 6.0 may be the interface. Although NIS has been simplified significantly over time, with the latest version offering the simplest presentation yet (including in-depth features hidden in a drop-down menu – easily accessible if wanted, but not intrusive), Norton 360, version 6.0 has an even cleaner basic screen presentation. The main window has four large yellow icons labeled “PC Security,” “Identity,” “Backup” and “PC Tuneup,” with a message under each title – and almost all the time, that message will be the single word protected. The previous version of Norton 360 had a main window with black background and dark-colored icons that were less easily readable. Also, the way options show up on the main screen has been tweaked: they now slide in at the side instead of coming up from below. That is a minor change, but the super-simple interface is not – at least not for users who just want to install the software (installation, by the way, is done easily and quickly) and then let the default settings in Norton 360, version 6.0 handle security.

     Those default settings are quite robust. The elements they manage include Norton’s self-healing installer, which can stop malware on an already-infected computer from hindering installation; an excellent firewall; highly effective cleanup of malware threats; Norton Insight, a database that helps identify known good or questionable programs and warn about ones that hog resources or are likely to crash; excellent antiphishing capability that can even identify sites too new to appear in a database of known frauds; the Identity Safe password-management and form-filling feature; Norton Management, which makes it easy to handle licenses for all protected computers online if you use multiple Norton products; and more. But all these features are essentially the same in Norton 360, version 6.0 as in the latest version of Norton Internet Security. And users considering buying Norton 360, version 6.0 for its tuneup features should know that similar software is available for free: Piriform, for example, makes both the excellent Speccy for system analysis and Defraggler for disk optimization.

     As so often these days with Norton products, the decision comes down to cost and convenience. Norton Internet Security does almost everything that Norton 360, version 6.0 does, but the new Norton 360 has a simpler and cleaner main screen and several additional elements built in. Both security suites integrate all their elements flawlessly and run efficiently in the background without requiring any significant user input – although users who do want to tweak things certainly can. Many of the functions of both suites are available elsewhere for free, but freeware programs can interfere with each other, offer little or no support (Norton users get free assistance throughout the license term), and require users to update them individually rather than through Norton’s automatic live-update feature. Norton 360, version 6.0 offers tremendous peace of mind at a reasonable price, if scarcely a low one; users who do not need its added elements or will not use them often will be more than satisfied with Norton Internet Security 2012. No one will go wrong with either.

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