Utility package offers crucial tools for smooth operation 

by Alan Zisman (c) 2002
First published in Business in Vancouver,  Issue #652  April 23-29, 2002 High Tech Office column

Upgrading to a new Microsoft or Apple operating system isn't the end of the story. In many ways, it's just the beginning, as users discover that they now need new versions of at least some of the programs they've been running on their computers. 

Unlike Apple's Mac OS X users, Windows XP-upgraders don't need to buy new versions of most applications. But that's not the case with system utilities, the programs that try to keep computers happy, healthy and running smoothly. XP broke older anti-virus utilities, for example. And users who converted to XP's more- secure NTFS file system will find that disk utilities designed for Windows 98 no longer work. 

XP compatibility led Symantec to release Norton SystemWorks 2002. Like earlier versions, it packs a lot of tools into a $99 or $149 version. The basic edition includes three major components: Norton AntiVirus, Norton Utilities, and Cleansweep. The more expensive Pro version adds copies of Symantec's Ghost and WinFax products. 

While boasting Windows XP support, SystemWorks can also be used along with earlier Windows versions, though Windows 95 systems are no longer supported. 

Along with being cheaper than buying all the components on their own (Norton AntiVirus and Norton Utilities each sell for $80), SystemWorks offers a single installation and a single interface to access all the tools. The One Button Checkup feature provides an easy way to run seven different scans with a single click. 

However, I am disappointed that SystemWorks' setup no longer gives users an option to choose what features to install. And while in an emergency you can boot to the SystemWorks CD, you can only check for viruses. To access the CD's emergency disk repair features, you have to boot to a DOS prompt and feel comfortable poking around the CD's files. 

Norton AntiVirus (NAV) 2002 remains the best virus-killer around. New are a simplified interface and the ability to check both outgoing and incoming e-mail. Scanning outgoing mail makes it less likely that, if infected, your computer will inadvertently infect others in your address book. 

Another nice touch: when a virus is found, users get a link to Symantec's Web site for more information about that virus. Carried over from previous versions, Symantec's LiveUpdate will automatically keep the virus definition files up to date. (Note: Symantec is now charging for virus definition updates after an initial year.) 

Norton Utilities includes a host of features for repairing and optimizing the computer's setup and operation. This version offers increased support for Windows 2000 and XP. Earlier versions earned a bad reputation by keeping too many of the program's modules always running in the background, sapping system performance. That's no longer true with this version, which more politely waits to be called. 

The WinDoctor module does a good job of checking for problems with the system configuration, and in most cases, fixing them automatically. But the Norton Disk Doctor and Speed Disk modules offer little beyond the ScanDisk and Defrag utilities that come with Windows. 

Similarly, Cleansweep's removal of unused programs and unneeded files is not much of an advance over features built into Windows. A bonus in both editions of SystemWorks is Roxio GoBack 3. It allows users faced with problems after installing new hardware drivers or software to back up to an earlier, hopefully problem-free configuration. Windows ME and XP users have similar software built-in while Windows 98 and 2000 users may find it valuable. 

Every PC user with Net access needs up-to-date antivirus software. Norton Antivirus remains world class. The rest of SystemWorks, while not much more expensive than buying Norton Antivirus on its own, is less vital. 

Search WWW Search www.zisman.ca

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan