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Saturday, March 07, 2009

Norton 360 - Office for antivirus and utilities

On Thursday, Symantec finally announced its latest version of Norton 360, its suite of anti-virus and computer utilities. I had had the privilege of attending a pre-announcement preview of the product and had been quite impressed by what Symantec brought to the table.

Norton 360, now in its third release, combines tools that are essential for a (Windows-based) computer's well-being. Building from Symantec's legacy of anti-virus and utilities software, it protects and enhances computers without compromising on performance.

The thing about Norton 360, as the "360" in its name implies, is that it's an all-round solution. Instead of buying separate anti-virus and/or utilities software, you just need to buy this one product to get everything you need. It's like the familiar office suites, e.g. MS Office, which brings together Word, Excel, PowerPoint and more under one umbrella. This means greater convenience for you in managing your software.

Key components of Norton 360 are:

Norton Safe Web - a browser plug-in that warns you about possibly malicious websites and prevents "bad" software from being loaded into your computer. It also protects against the so-called "drive-by downloads", in which a trusted website may have been compromised, e.g. its background wallpaper had been replaced with something that would send bugs to your computer.

Norton Identity Safe - for storing your usernames and passwords securely, warning you against phising sites, and protecting you from keyloggers (which can capture what you type on your keyboard, useful for protecting against accidentally leaking out your username/password as you type)

Backup - the familiar backup tool that has been a stalwart of Norton Utilities, it now allows you to backup to Symantec's online storage for off-site backup. (Online storage is available at an additional fee.)

Tuneup - similar to Windows built-in Services control panel, this tool allows you to configure whether to launch startup items when you switch on your computer, delay the launch, or just not launch at all. (A delayed launch basically occurs after your desktop appears.) Unlike Windows' Services, Symantec thoughtfully indicates how much time that a startup item will require to launch. Interestingly, during the demo, Norton Utilies showed up as something that would have "Moderate" impact on startup time!

In addition to this, Symantec makes extensive use of community support, or so-called "crowd sourcing". For example, if one Norton user encounters a malicious website that Symantec had not known about, that information will be instantly propogated to every Norton user (at the next Live Update).

Aside: Live Update now checks for new updates about every 10-15 minutes. And it can be configured to work when the computer is idle. During the demo, several updates occurred without affecting the presentation!

Another use of crowd sourcing is with anti-virus checks. Symantec makes use of signatures to identify files that don't need to be scanned. Internally, it maintains a database of known "good" files. But when another program, e.g. "XYZ", is scanned as safe by other users, that information will be sent out to everyone as "Community approved" and will be skipped during anti-virus scans.

The above is an example of how Symantec is able to drastically reduce the performance impact on users' computers. Scanning fewer files means less CPU power devoted to anti-virus checks and less time spent on scanning. Other enhancements have also been made to other parts of the Norton tools to dramatically improve the overall experience.

These product enhancements and new features make Norton 360 even more "must have", especially for those who don't already have anti-virus or utilities software. Its convenience as an all-in-one package combined with its tremendous enhancements and support make it extremely valuable.

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