If Norton AntiVirus 2005 is long on dependability, it's short on sizzle, adding only a few modest enhancements to last year's . Norton's strengths remain its well-designed interface and impressive virus-blocking performance history. The new Quick Scan tool, which automatically searches for viruses following updates, is a welcome addition; however, we're less thrilled with the much-touted worm blocker because it doesn't match the level of protection found in full-fledged firewalls offered in competing antivirus packages. Current Norton users should upgrade to 2005, however, as the upgrade costs only $5 more than Symantec's annual subscription-renewal fee. But new users should shop around for an antivirus program that also includes a firewall, such as last year's Editors' Choice, , or the newly released . Norton AntiVirus 2005 now takes less time to setup and configure than before. In version 2004, a preinstall antivirus scan examined every file on your PC--time-consuming overkill. This year Norton saves time with its new Quick Scan engine, checking only the usual-suspect files and folders--those with Startup entries or with System-Start INI or batch entries--and skipping less likely files and folders, such as music and image folders.
After the quick presetup scan, Norton installs itself, automatically downloads the latest virus definitions and program files, and runs a mandatory, comprehensive post-setup scan. Our initial setup took just less than 45 minutes; plan to step away from the PC and brew some tea in that time, though, as Norton is a major resource hog during its system scan, essentially rendering your PC useless for other tasks. For instance, in our informal tests, Microsoft Word took 35 seconds to load during a system scan. With no scan running, it took just 6 seconds on our 2GHz Celeron with 512MB of RAM. For more on system performance, see our.
Norton's clean, well-organized interface remains one of the best in the antivirus biz, and we're pleased to see it's mostly unchanged. One noteworthy upgrade is the Protection Alert screen; it allows you to specify a period of inactivity when disabling Norton's real-time virus scanner--a necessary evil when installing some programs. Simply right-click the Norton icon in the Windows Taskbar, click Disable Auto-Protect, and select a period of shutdown time--15 minutes, 1 hour, 5 hours, or until the system restarts. This is important because many users forget to turn the scanner back on.Like its competitors, Norton AntiVirus 2005 scans and cleans instant-messenger attachments, as well as inbound and outbound e-mail. However, all of Norton's best features are carryovers from 2004. This year's version adds Norton Internet Worm Protection, a lightweight firewall feature that blocks unsolicited inbound traffic, including nasty troublemakers such as the Blaster and Sasser worms. Unlike a full-on firewall, however, Worm Protection won't block outbound traffic, making it no more effective than the free Microsoft firewall included in Windows XP SP2.
We ran Norton Worm Protection against Steve Gibson's ShieldsUp security checker, which reported that our test PC successfully blocked most of the test Internet packets. Unfortunately, our test PC replied to the ShieldsUp Ping requests, meaning our computer was visible to the Internet--not good. Typically, a computer running a full-on firewall won't respond to pings. Even with Worm Protection, Norton users will still need a firewall.
Like its predecessor, Norton AntiVirus 2005 scans for hidden spyware threats, including adware, dialers, and keystroke loggers that record every key you tap. Unfortunately, its real-time scanner doesn't detect spyware; rather, Norton spots these menaces during only a full system scan or a Quick Scan, the latter of which runs immediately after virus-definition downloads. Overall scanning speed was respectable. In our informal tests, Norton took 37 minutes to scan a 12GB partition.