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There's good and bad news in Symantec Norton Internet Security 2006. The good news is that the best-selling Norton suite does a fine job thwarting Internet-bred assaults, including viruses, worms, hacker intrusions, and the like. The new Security Inspector tool uncovers unsafe browser settings and Windows passwords, and Norton now prevents hijackers from changing your browser's home page. The bad news is that, like its top competitor, McAfee Internet Security Suite 2006, the $70 Norton takes a toll on PC performance, particularly during system scans. It also offers mediocre technical support. What's worse, Symantec just raised its annual subscription renewal price by $10. That said, Norton Internet Security 2006 remains a solid $50 upgrade for longtime users, who will benefit from Norton's improved spam and phishing e-mail filters. Everyone else should shop around for a better deal. ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 6 offers similar performance with significantly less impact on system resources.
Norton Internet Security 2006 is easy to install: a few clicks, and the program does the rest. But easy and fast are two different animals. Norton's setup may take hours if you decide to run the optional postinstallation scan. In our tests, basic setup, which includes software installation, rebooting, downloading updated files, and configuring security settings, took about 30 minutes--roughly the same as McAfee Internet Security Suite 2006. But Norton's optional postsetup antivirus scan added another 1 hour, 45 minutes to the process. While this was 30 minutes less than McAfee Internet Security Suite 2006 took, Norton rendered our PC virtually unusable for other tasks while it worked. Technically, we could use our test machine with Norton AntiVirus actively scanning in the background, but whenever Microsoft Word takes more than two minutes to launch, you're better off reading a book.
Norton Internet Security 2006 keeps the intuitive interface design from previous versions. The home screen, known as the Norton Protection Center, provides links to major security components, including virus and worm protection, a firewall, and e-mail and instant-messenger scanning. Many users won't ever tinker with individual component settings and may choose to rely on the Norton Protection Center console instead. Unfortunately, we found some of the console's protection information inaccurate or misleading.
On our test PC, for instance, the Protection Center listed "No Coverage" under the Data Recovery heading, meaning our PC had no protection against disk crashes, missing files, or installation disasters--this, even though we had a copy of Uniblue WinBackup installed. A link marked "Learn how to fully protect this category" led to a Symantec Web page touting Norton SystemWorks 2006. Frankly, we'd like to see the Protection Center recognize installed non-Symantec applications--and keep advertising clearly marked as such.
On the Windows desktop, Norton inserts a color-coded status icon within the Taskbar. A green check mark means you're fully protected; a red X spells trouble. Pop-up messages warn you when Norton detects danger--for example, whenever a new virus hits your system--and offers a suggestion to repair the problem. In general, the frequency and the number of pop-ups were not overwhelming.
Norton Internet Security 2006 has improved over the last year, thanks to a handful of worthy, if unspectacular, enhancements. For instance, a new feature called Security Inspector finds, and in some cases patches, potential security holes, including weak browser settings and Windows passwords. In our tests, Norton Security Inspector accurately detected and changed (after asking permission) several insecure Internet Explorer settings. It also discovered--but didn't fix--problems with our Windows passwords. Specifically, it found that our Windows XP administrator and other users had a "weak or missing password," and it suggested improvements such as using a password of at least eight characters with one or more nonalphanumeric characters. According to Symantec, Norton intentionally doesn't suggest secure passwords or automatically change them for you.
The new Norton Home Page Hijacking Protection feature is another nice addition. As its name implies, it prevents a rogue site from making itself your browser's home page--an all-too-common problem for inexperienced Web surfers. That said, many free utilities, including HijackThis, already provide this same service. We also like Norton's much-improved firewall, which does a better job of automatically creating firewall rules--that is, deciding which programs need Net access--without pestering you for advice.
Unfortunately, Norton's new spyware protection should be even more aggressive. For instance, we were able to download and install WeatherCast, a free program known to contain adware--before Norton offered to remove it. By contrast, McAfee Internet Security Suite 2006 warned us before we started downloading WeatherCast.
Speed? Unfortunately, Norton Internet Security 2006 is as slow as a slug. With Norton Internet Security 2006 running, Microsoft Word files took an extra two to three seconds to load; Outlook e-mails took several seconds longer to send. And Norton AntiVirus 2006 scans rendered our test PC useless for other tasks. True, if you run your scans at odd hours, you're fine. But don't try to work while Norton AntiVirus is scanning; Word took more than 2 minutes to load. In a comparison with the McAfee antivirus app, Norton took 1 hour, 45 minutes to scan a 19GB disk partition, while McAfee Internet Security Suite 2006 was even slower, taking an extra 30 minutes to scan the same partition. However, McAfee offers a reasonable trade-off: Microsoft Word loaded in 26 seconds during our McAfee scans--slow, certainly, but not unbearably so.
If you run into problems with Norton Internet Security 2006, you can get help via free online chat or paid telephone support. Symantec offers both 24/7. Symantec's support site, however, needs a redesign; the link to the free online chat was extremely hard to find. After fumbling around, we discovered the free-chat link only after clicking the "Continue to phone support" link. Phone support costs $29.95 per incident or $2.95 per minute.
We'd like to see better-trained tech reps too. Our online chat rep vanished for two to three minutes between each of our questions, during which he said he was "referring to documents." Translation: he didn't know his stuff. In responding to our simplest question--How do you run Norton Security Inspector?--he e-mailed instructions five hours later.
Finally, weeks after releasing Norton Internet Security 2006, Symantec announced it had raised the price on an annual subscription renewal, which users need to receive fixes, enhancements, and the latest antivirus signature file updates. Last year's renewal price for Norton Internet Security was $29.95--in line with the price of competing products. This year, however, it'll cost you $39.95, which is more than half the price of purchase and quite nearly the price of an upgrade (which might be Symantec's point).