Having improved a lot last year in Symantec's flagship antivirus product, it makes sense we'd see more modest enhancements for this year's Norton AntiVirus 2008. While Norton AntiVirus 2008's antivirus test results compare favorably to our Editors' Choice winner Kaspersky Anti-Virus 7, it's the user experience that suffers in this release. Symantec provides Norton users with little explanation of its features or settings, either in the configuration settings or on its technical support section. Also we don't like Norton's dependency on Internet Explorer to explain Help items or services provided by Symantec (windows pop up in IE even when Firefox is your default browser), or that fee-based services have once again crept into the technical support section. All of these things distract the user and weigh the product down in our mind.
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If first impressions are everything, Norton AntiVirus 2008 loses us at "Hello." The new interface design is dark and garish, almost a perverse joke on those seeking reassuring security for their desktop. The use of ominous thick black borders and orange graphics suggests Halloween, a look that could get old by March. This is the first screen you see, and it's for the overall Norton protection status, not specifically Norton AntiVirus. For that, you need to click a tab. Unlike Kaspersky and other antivirus applications, you can't change the look and feel of Norton AntiVirus 2008. The unfriendly look and feel is, perhaps, a deeper metaphor for the overall lack of the configuration settings within Norton AntiVirus 2008.
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LiveUpdate, which used to be a separate process, is now integrated into Norton AntiVirus 2008--and about time. Once the product is installed and you're asked to update, everything--program files and signature files--arrive on your desktop together, making the experience smoother and easier. Symantec says this year's LiveUpdate packets are more compressed.
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By clicking on any of the blue, underlined items (commonly thought of in HTML terms as links to other content), we get a pop-up message telling us what we already know. If we hit Ignore to say close the pop-up, the feature is disabled. Somewhere, someone must have though this user interface made sense--it doesn't.
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Symantec limits (if not removes) a user's ability to customize and tweak individual settings throughout Norton AntiVirus 2008; for example, there's no quick way to set Norton to only scan new or recently modified files. Head-to-head, Kaspersky gives users more enable/disable options.
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Our central problem is that Norton offers some wonderful features, but we have no way of tweaking any of them. Here, using the noncontextual Help file, we tried to learn more about the new feature "Browser Defender." We found one sentence devoted to it. It would be nice if Symantec provided contextual help (i.e., when we click on a feature, the program takes us automatically to the section of the Help file discussing it).
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Then there's my favorite configuration option "Turn on Advanced Mode" under the Suspicious Activity Monitor--it's not on by default, so should we turn it on? After checking the non-contextual Help file we learned the only difference between regular and Advance Mode is that the Suspicious Activity Monitor will log it in regular and alert you in Advanced mode. But we had to search hard to find this information.
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Like last year, Symantec's support options include an automatic diagnostic tool for the program. It's worth noting that one of the comments it made is: "Your computer runs slowly after installing Norton AntiVirus 2008," which leads us to believe that many people experience this condition.
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After an absence of one or two years, advertising once again creeps back into the Symantec's technical support section in the guise of "Expert Services" and "PC Tune Up." Both are paid consulting services that, if you're not careful, could cost you up $69.95 (that's a flat fee) per call. In the PC Tune Up scenario, you call up, are charged, and a Symantec technician remotely accesses your PC to resolve any problems you might be having at that time. Some might find that comforting, but at $70 you can probably find free help by doing a Google search for your error message or problem, since Symantec doesn't yet maintain a user's forum.
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If you chose the chat option, you will need to download an applet first. While this is pretty standard, it's only the first part of the chat online setup.
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After you download the applet, you still need to provide information including your e-mail and phone. We tried skipping the phone number but we couldn't advance without it.
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There is some free, printable documentation online. Symantec provides a fairly light 13-page user's manual that mostly addresses how to install the product, not use it. By comparison, Kaspersky provides a much more through, 321-page manual on how to use its antivirus product.
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If all else fails, Symantec does offer live telephone support for assistance. When we called, there was no charge for registered Symantec customers.
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