It is something of an industry tradition that each passing year will herald a flurry of software vendors bearing updated editions of their major product lines. Symantec has pitched up with a 2004-suffixed edition of Norton AntiVirus, the latest revision of the electronic infection-fighting tool trusted by millions of PC users around the world.
We're looking specifically here at the "Professional" flavour, which differs from the standard edition in several respects. First, the professional version will cost you a further £10. However, this gets you a second user licence, meaning Norton AntiVirus Professional can be legitimately installed and used on two PCs at the same time. For the home or small business running a couple of computers, this a great-value way of installing anti-virus defences on both systems.
On this point, it's worth noting that the use of Norton AntiVirus is now shackled by product activation, affording Symantec the power to scrutinise licence abuse and deactivate installations found to be in contravention. In other words, should you attempt to make installations in excess of the purchased licences, those illegitimate incarnations will be rendered unusable.
The second advantage that Pro has over its cheaper sibling is the ability to electronically shred the content of sensitive files and folders that are no longer required, in the form of a utility called Wipe Info. This feature can be executed in either of two modes – Fast Wipe or Government Wipe. The former overwrites (once) the disk space occupied by specified files. The latter really goes to town, using multiple wipe-and-write processes to comprehensively alter the magnetic signature of the part of the disk that stored the original files.
Obviously, the Government Wipe is a long-winded process and it can take ages to complete, so its existence is likely to endear only the most paranoid data creator.
Conversely, Norton AntiVirus Professional's third advanced feature is designed to recover accidentally deleted files and older versions of files that have been modified. The utility trades under the self-explanatory moniker of UnErase Wizard, and it works in conjunction with the Norton Protected Recycle Bin. Target files can be selected from a list of recently deleted items, or after an extended search using keywords specified by the user.
Realistically, the UnErase Wizard is unlikely to resurrect files removed from the file system months or weeks ago, but the ability to recover otherwise untouchable data might on occasion get the user out of a tight spot.
Those are the benefits of spending to go Pro, and the rest of this review regards features common to both editions.
As with previous versions, installing Norton AntiVirus is a straightforward process, hindered only slightly by the introduction of the aforementioned product activation requirement. You don't have to activate during installation, but skipping the step merely results in regular pop-up alerts, warning the user that if the product is not activated within 15 days then it will be disabled. Fortunately, activation takes but a moment to do.
However, the program's dogged desire to carry out a full system scan during setup does slow things down considerably. Again, this can be skipped, but the software makes it clear that the in-depth scan will need to be conducted sooner or later. Norton AntiVirus 2004 took just over an hour to perform the full system scan on our test PC's 80GB hard disk, during which time the said computer was rendered effectively unusable, such was the hit on performance. With this in mind, it is perhaps understandable that by default, the program schedules a full scan only after 6pm on Fridays. Of course, the user has freedom to alter or augment this standard setting.
After the installation, Norton AntiVirus makes its first connection to Symantec's LiveUpdate service, whereupon it downloads any relevant software updates along with the latest virus signatures. The package's price includes a year's worth of updates from this service, with a subscription required for ongoing use.
Obviously, the purpose of buying a product like this is to protect the host PC from the latest viruses, and it does this very well. We threw a variety of viruses at the program and it didn't let us down. Depending on the settings chosen by the user, infected files are either deleted upon detection or moved into "quarantine", where they can be monitored and manipulated while kept at a safe distance from other areas of the computer's hard disk. We found that Norton AntiVirus' ability to deal with electronic attacks is second to none.
However, as the way in which these electronic nasties spread constantly evolves, it is important that AV software develops in response. The 2004 edition of Norton AntiVirus protects against online threats on two new fronts. The first is the way in which the program scans compressed files. Rather than wait for, say, a web-borne .zip file to download, Norton AntiVirus gets to work scanning while the download is in progress.
The second new feature is, perhaps, of more interest. Specifically, Norton AntiVirus is now able to turn its attention towards more recent online unpleasantries, like spyware and adware. While these options are welcome additions, we found that free-of-charge utilities, like Ad-aware from Lavasoft, do a better job of eradicating such frustrations.