By Stan Miastkowski If you don't have a utility suite on your PC, it's time to consider getting one, since Norton SystemWorks, the best package available, just got better. Why have a utility suite? Because it can keep your PC out of trouble by detecting problems early and providing the tools to fix those problems. I looked at a prerelease version of Symantec's Norton SystemWorks 2002 and found it stronger, smoother, and more versatile than its predecessor--in short, a worthwhile upgrade. I also looked at its companion program, Norton Internet Security 2002. New features in both utilities focus on keeping a PC safe and secure, while existing ones have been fine-tuned for better performance and ease of use.
SystemWorks 2002 ($70 for the Standard version and $100 for the Professional, before a $30 rebate on each) boasts a beefed-up AntiVirus 2002 that automatically checks for virus updates every 4 hours (you can turn the feature off). For easier access and faster file checking, AntiVirus 2002 now has an icon in Windows Explorer. Also new: AntiVirus 2002 checks outgoing e-mail attachments, as well as incoming e-mail, for viruses. Under the hood, AntiVirus uses a new script-blocking technology that, the vendor claims, will protect against fast-spreading viruses. And scanning speed has been improved by at least 30 percent, judging from my tests.
SystemWorks 2002 also includes two new utilities that you can choose to install or not. Roxio GoBack Personal Edition sets aside part of your hard drive to periodically save crucial system settings. It can then restore them when you experience problems--handy if a newly installed program gums up your PC's guts.
The most obvious changes in SystemWorks 2002 are a cleaner overall interface that makes using individual components easier and a streamlined installation process that sets commonly used defaults (I found it simple to change them later). As in previous versions, SystemWorks' master menu offers a fast One-Button Checkup for assessing overall system health. Norton Utilities and CleanSweep--which are also accessible on the master menu--remain essentially unchanged. The $100 Professional edition that I tested adds the personal version of Norton Ghost (for making backup images of your hard drive) and WinFax 10.
Norton Internet Security 2002 ($70 before a $30 rebate), which can run alone or integrate with the SystemWorks interface if you're running SystemWorks, includes new multiuser parental controls. You can set various levels of Internet access for different users; for instance, you can prevent certain data--phone numbers, addresses, names--from being entered into Microsoft MSN Messenger or AOL Instant Messenger. Returning utilities include an updated version of Norton AntiVirus, an ad-blocking tool, Web filtering features, and a firewall.
Symantec has made the firewall setup process much easier. A wizard provides extensive explanations as it guides you through crucial steps. Much of the configuration of Internet-accessing applications is now automatic. And the new Home Networking Wizard automatically detects computers on a local network and configures them for access through the firewall, a process that I found far simpler than in prior versions.
Overall, Symantec has done an excellent job of improving two already solid products. Both suites run on Windows 98, Millennium Edition, NT Workstation, and 2000, and the company says that both also are compatible with Windows XP Home and XP Professional out of the box.
On my two test PCs running Windows 98 and Me, neither suite bogged down the system performance or showed any unusual behavior. Well-priced upgrades make moving up a no-brainer if you already use the Norton suites. If you don't have a utility suite yet, the 2002 Norton editions are a practical choice. From the November 2001 issue of PC World magazine