April 20, 2006


Norton SystemWorks 2006 Basic Edition. Windows 2000 SP4 or higher, or Windows XP. Symantec. $49.99.

     Symantec makes the best available performance-enhancement suites for Windows PCs, basing those products on its excellent Norton AntiVirus and growing them from there.

     So what is one to make of a Symantec utility suite without Norton AntiVirus?  That’s what this stripped-down version of Norton SystemWorks 2006 is.  It is essentially four products in one: Norton Utilities, Symantec’s excellent performance tune-up product; Norton GoBack, which lets you reset your computer easily to a working configuration if it develops problems after you make changes; and CheckIt Diagnostics and System Optimizer, which together help you find and eliminate performance problems so your computer works as well as possible.  Users monitor all the programs through an easy-to-use central reference point called Norton Protection Center.

     The four products here are, in fact, four-fifths of Norton SystemWorks 2006, the other fifth being Norton AntiVirus.  The question is whether these utilities are worth $50 in the absence of antivirus protection.  The answer is: it depends.

     Let’s say you already have Norton AntiVirus, purchased as a standalone product, but have now decided you want additional protection and the opportunity to fine-tune your computer’s performance.  Then Norton SystemWorks 2006 Basic Edition makes sense.  Or let’s say you have decided to use a non-Symantec antivirus product, such as Grisoft’s excellent AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition, but still want a way to maximize your computer’s operating efficiency.  Then, too, this Symantec suite will be attractive.  In fact, one suspects that the target market is people who have chosen not to use Norton AntiVirus – but can perhaps be lured into the Symantec fold when they find out how well this suite works.

     Make no mistake: it works very well indeed.  Symantec specializes in creating products that interact seamlessly: they work together, are updated together, can be scheduled together, and fulfill different but related functions in ways that enhance overall computer performance.  Norton SystemWorks 2006 Basic Edition does exactly what it is supposed to do, and does it well.  Norton Protection Center gives a clear overview of the status of your PC’s protection, relating both to your data and to your online activities.  Components of the suite can be started manually or be scheduled to run at regular intervals.  You can repair computer problems, recover lost or accidentally deleted files, keep your hard disk (or disks) defragmented for smoother operation, and more.  The underlying tasks are complex, but Symantec has steadily improved the ease of use of its Norton product line in recent years, and the 2006 products have the best-looking and most user-friendly interfaces yet.

     So the real question is why you would want a Norton SystemWorks product without its antivirus component.  If you find Symantec’s products congenial, an extra $20 gets you Norton SystemWorks 2006 with Norton AntiVirus included.  If you have decided against that antivirus product – which is excellent, though certainly not the only good virus fighter available – then what would drive you to buy a suite of tune-up products from a company whose antivirus offering you do not want?  This seems like a marketing dilemma – whose outcome will likely determine whether Norton SystemWorks Basic Edition will continue to be offered in future years.

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