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ISSUE 523: New economy- Nov 2 1999

The high tech office


Norton turns in impressive updates to utility programs

Over the past two issues, we've been looking at a number of utilities or pieces of software that help your computer run better or help you accomplish some relatively minor, but often vital task. So far, we've been looking at useful products from relatively minor players in the software arena.

Symantec is the 800-pound gorilla of the utility software market, an enterprise that's grown both by capturing market share and by gobbling up other companies, including the Canadian company Delrina, makers of WinFax and other utility products.

Recently, Symantec released new versions of its best-known products for both PC and Mac -- after upgrading these same titles just a few months ago. Let's take a look at the newest generation. For the PC there is Norton Utilities 2000 and Norton Antivirus 2000 (along with the utilities suite package Norton Systemworks 2000) and, for the Mac, Norton Utilities 5.0 and Norton Anti-
virus 6.0.

Norton Utilities is one of the classic PC products. It originated in the early 1980s when Peter Norton discovered that deleted files weren't necessarily gone, but could often be revived in a pinch. This simple but often job-saving trick created a utility dynasty. The Norton Utilities set went through eight generations as a DOS program and is now on its fifth rewrite for Windows 9x with a separate product for NT.

Norton Utilities 2000 ($74.95; $44.95 upgrade) isn't really a whole new generation. Under the covers it's referred to as version 4.5. If you have the previous version, not much is new. It does, however, work with hard drives larger than 20 gigs and includes a beefed up Live Advisor function that uses the Net to check in with Symantec for updates, news and tips.

The default installation wants to load a bunch of system checkers that are always running in the background, ready to warn if you're running low on drive space or other potential problems. In earlier versions, having all these things running at once could noticeably slow a computer down. The newer version is much less of a resource hog. Still, I prefer choosing to leave them off except when I want to check for problems. As well, I remain wary of the CrashGuard utility included with NU2000, which promises to stop system crashes before they occur. I find it causes at least as many problems as it cures.

Despite this nitpicking, Norton Utilities remain an important product for Windows users.

Norton Antivirus 2000 ($59.95; $29.95 upgrade) does add some important functions. It can check e-mail and attachments as you receive them. As well, it can check for viruses within compressed files. Symantec releases new virus definitions every 15 days and the program lets users know when it's time to update. With a single click the program will go online, get the new definitions and update your system automatically. By keeping users up to date, it's much less likely that their systems will be infected. Highly recommended! The package includes versions for DOS, Windows 3.1 and NT, along with the 95/98 version, though not all features are supported on all platforms.

Symantec bundles the Win95/98 versions of both of these products, along with the uninstaller Cleansweep and a bunch of other utilities into the SystemWorks 2000 suite, in two versions: an $89.95 Standard version and a $149.95 Professional version. The higher priced version adds Norton 2000 for checking Y2K problems and Norton Ghost for backing up or cloning entire hard drives.

The Mac products don't get the trendy "2000" name and in general offer fewer functions at higher prices than the PC counterparts.

Norton Utilities 5.0 ($149.95; $74.95 upgrade) continues to offer the core Norton Disk Doctor and Speedisk file defragger of earlier versions, along with improved support for Apple's HFS+ file system used with large hard drives, and support for Firewire, a high-speed connection standard built into the newest Macs.

Norton Antivirus 6.0 does not include the e-mail attachment checking of its new PC counterpart, which is too bad. While there are far fewer viruses affecting Macs than PCs, Word and other macro viruses can affect both platforms and are typically spread via infected e-mail attachments. The program runs faster than earlier versions and offers a simplified user interface.

Like the PC versions, both of Symantec's new Mac versions include Live Update, an easy way to keep them up to date via the Net. Unlike the PC Antivirus program, however, Mac Antivirus program users have to remember to use it. There are no automatic reminders. Perhaps Symantec assumes that Mac users are more organized than their PC counterparts?

If you own an older Mac, don't even think of upgrading, however. These products require a PowerMac. *

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