December 29, 2005


Norton SystemWorks 2006 Premier. Windows 2000 Professional SP4 or higher, or Windows XP. Symantec. $99.99 ($20 rebate available for current customers or users of competing products).

     As a company, Symantec Corporation was buffeted from many directions during 2005: some of its own products came slowly to market, Microsoft got into some of the same business areas that Symantec has long dominated, malware creators started to target protective products by Symantec and others, and some free software available online improved to the point that it became a real challenge to Symantec’s paid products.

     It is good to know that these currents and cross-currents do not show at all in Norton SystemWorks 2006 Premier, Symantec’s latest version of its top-notch computer-protection suite.  The 2006 version of SystemWorks continues the commendable trend of recent years by packing more value into the software while making it far simpler for consumers to use.  The old days, when Norton-branded software was excellent but too geeky to be useful for most people, are long gone.

     The best thing in the new version of this software is Norton Protection Center, a single place for users to go to get a clear and relatively straightforward summary of everything they need to know about protecting their systems – based on their own computing habits.  The Protection Center aggregates information from Norton AntiVirus, the most basic computer protection of all; Norton GoBack, which lets users return to an earlier, safe configuration if a computer is ever compromised; Norton Cleanup, an easy way to get rid of the clutter that comes from Web surfing and other everyday tasks and that eventually clogs a computer and slows it down; Norton Utilities, the heart of the suite, the redoubtable program for solving all sorts of operational problems and fine-tuning a computer for better ongoing performance; and more.

     The Premier version of Norton SystemWorks 2006 costs $30 more than the standard version because it includes the excellent and efficient, but previously somewhat under-utilized, Norton Ghost 10.0.  Long sold as a standalone product for businesses needing an automated backup feature, Norton Ghost integrates remarkably well with SystemWorks 2006 Premier, which even includes a Symantec Recovery Disk feature to rescue unbootable PCs – the ultimate horror for a computer user.  The operation of this new Ghost is particularly impressive: it automatically creates an initial backup schedule based on current configuration, makes backups either on its own or on command, displays scheduled backups conveniently, and works well with Maxtor external drives equipped with OneTouch backup-starting buttons.  It is a significant enhancement of SystemWorks and well worth the extra cost.

     Not everything in this generally excellent new suite will please all users, though.  Norton GoBack is installed by default and takes a big chunk of memory.  Users satisfied with existing backup systems may not want Norton Ghost (in which case they should opt for the standard rather than premier suite).  Although some enhancements are quite useful (Norton Cleanup is now compatible with multiple browsers and can automatically import and preserve favorites and trusted Web sites), other elements are unhelpful or confusing (Process Viewer and System Optimizer are not for the faint of heart).  And a full installation of the Premier suite requires 250 megabytes – not a small amount of space even on today’s large hard drives.  Symantec’s policy of providing only one year of updates continues to be an annoyance, too, especially when excellent free products for many functions are readily available (AVG Anti-Virus, Ad-Aware SE, Spybot – Search & Destroy, etc.).

     Nevertheless, it has to be said that there is an elegance to Symantec’s suite that its competitors, paid and free, lack.  The parts of Norton SystemWorks 2006 work seamlessly together, the interface is well-designed and more comfortable than ever for near-novices to use, and the number of functions monitored, boosted, assisted and fine-tuned by this suite is unmatched by anything else on the market.  The result is a product that keeps Symantec Corporation in the forefront of computer protection, fine-tuning and performance improvement – an excellent investment for the year to come and beyond.

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