When we first reviewed Norton 360, it handily won our Editors’ Choice award. At the time, after all, it was rare to find a security suite that could tune up your PC, store your passwords, back up files online, and scan for viruses and malware. Times have changed; now every security company, large or small, has an all-in-one suite, and the features Symantec pioneered—online backup and tune-up utilities—are now standard. Nonetheless, Norton 360 still has the simplest interface of them all and we like its Quiet Mode and zippy installation.
Installation and User Interface
Installing the 75.7MB program took just 58 seconds on our Toshiba Tecra M10. After it finished, the program immediately launched into the home screen. We didn’t have to restart the notebook, nor did we see prompts to register the product.
The third generation of Norton 360 has the same attractive, intuitive interface as its predecessor. The zen white screen, which is accented with yellow and green, contains four task-oriented panes: Backup, Identity Protection, PC Security, and PC Tuneup. The main screen just shows if you’re protected in each category (if you are, it will say so in green letters, evoking a stop light), but if you roll over a category, you’ll see a menu of more specific tasks. For instance, under the PC Tuneup section you can choose to run a file cleanup or a disk optimization, among other choices.
There’s also a Tasks menu in the upper nav, which shows a longer list of tasks associated with each major area, such as backup and tune-up. Missing from both this Tasks menu and the roll-over ones is the option to manually run all of the tasks in a category (e.g., a full tune-up). That’s because, in part, Norton 360 automatically runs complete security and tune-up scans by default. The default option is simply Automatic, but you can also set it to run weekly, monthly, or on a custom schedule. Users can also customize which tasks happen automatically, such as disk optimization and clearing your Internet Explorer history (a feature Symantec should expand to more browsers).
The foolproof interface is clearly designed for users who would rather forget they even have security software running; people who want more control over the program, however, will be disappointed by their inability to tweak the settings.
Users can run a quick, complete, or custom scan, in which they choose which folders Norton 360 should check. It’s annoying that comprehensive scanning also includes a backup, which some users might not want because it makes the scan take longer. Users can click the Custom option and uncheck whatever processes they want to skip (such as backup), but those who aren’t tech savvy might not appreciate this extra step. Moreover, mainstream users are likely to assume, as we did, that a comprehensive scan just means a deep virus and malware scan, in which case they’ll be surprised to see a prompt to configure online backup when they attempt to begin the scan.
Norton Insight, a built-in technology that users cannot opt out of, skips trusted files when searching to speed up the process (Symantec uses information collected from its user base to determine which files are safe). Each of the trusted files, which include executable files by Apple, Intel, and Microsoft, carries a star rating (five is the highest). At the top of the box, a color-coded graphic shows what percentage of files on the PC are trusted, and to what extent a scan is needed (this stat also takes the form of a percentile).
We do like that Norton 360 offers Quiet mode, which suppresses pop-ups and handles security threats on its own without interrupting the user. Quiet mode is not enabled by default, but Full Screen Detection is, which automatically enables Quiet mode while you’re doing something at full screen, whether it be a game or PowerPoint presentation. Even without Quiet mode, once you’ve done a scan and found a certain kind of threat (tracking cookies, for example) you can tell Norton 360 to always delete them without asking you.
While Norton 360 is scanning, it shows what process it’s working on (e.g., scanning for viruses and spyware, performing a registry cleanup), but there’s no progress bar to let users know how much time remains, or how much of the job is complete.
Before we installed Norton 360, our Tecra M10 took 1, 4, 1, and 2 seconds to open Google Picasa 2, Internet Explorer, iTunes, and Microsoft Word, respectively. While running a virus scan, this time rose to (or remained steady at) 9, 9, 5, and 4 seconds. With the exception of Word, all the open times took longer than the averages, which were 5 seconds for Google Picasa, 4 seconds for IE, 8 seconds for iTunes, and 6 seconds for Word.
After cleaning up the system, our notebook’s boot time rose by 15 seconds. That’s not good, but it’s also not as bad as Trend Micro Internet Security Pro, which bumped up the boot time by 17 seconds, much less ZoneAlarm Extreme Security, which bloated the startup time by 49 seconds.
In terms of protection, Virus Bulletin, which conducts independent testing, found that Symantec protects against 98.7 percent of malware, which is high for its class (Trend Micro, for instance, scored only 91.3 percent, while McAfee managed to thwart 93.6 percent of threats).
Norton 360’s backup application, Norton Backup Drive, allows for the creation of discrete backup folders. In each case, the user moves through a tabbed interface, checking boxes for the kinds of files he or she wants to save, as well as designate a location (Norton’s online storage, the C drive, and a CD or DVD are all options; unfortunately, connected USB storage devices don’t appear in the destinations menu). As with virus scans and tune-ups, users can schedule backups; they can also add folders to the list of items to be backed up, if they don’t already appear in the default checklist.
Licenses and Support
The standard $69.99 version of Norton 360 comes with 2GB of online storage and three licenses. The Premier edition ($99.99 per year) includes 25GB of storage and five licenses. There are also two small business versions: a $129-per-year package including 5 licenses and 10GB of storage, and a $249-per-year version including 10 licenses and 25GB of storage.
Norton 360 includes free phone, chat, and e-mail support for one year (tech support is available 24/7). Users can access support—specifically, a database of answers to common questions—with one click from the main menu.
Now in its third iteration, there’s plenty to like about Norton 360 ($69.99). Its streamlined interface is easy to navigate, and offers users plenty of opportunities to automate system scans so that they don’t have to take much action. While it may cost $10 more, BitDefender Total Security 2010 offers a better combination of an elegant interface, detailed parental controls, and lots of advanced features. Still, Norton 360 is fairly strong. Its new Quiet mode even ensures that it won’t get in your way if you’re working (or playing) full screen. Just don’t expect much in the way of customizable options.