Pros: excellent collection of tools for serious administrators (home or business), integrated, userfriendly
Cons: premium price (normally), not for casual computer users, some stability issues w/ Ghost and SystemInfo
Symantec earned it's reputation first with a comprehensive set of system administration tools (i.e. Norton Commander). Microsoft reacted and added a few of those functions to Windows. With the latest version (XP) one might wonder if Symantec is still needed, given the basic set of maintenance tools that are already included in WinXP.
The clear answer is YES and here is why ...
$$$ FREE $$$
Before you get your hopes up, this offer may have expired by the time you get to read this. Nevertheless some of the rebates remain in effect and bring cost at least a little bit down from the proud list price ($99.95).
Anyway, it's FREE (for some users) on Nov 26th and 27th 2004 at a local Staples or Staples.com, and here is how ...
Listed Price^ = $89.95
Upgrade Rebate* = -$30.-
Instant Rebate^ = -$20.-
Mail-in Rebate^ = -$40.-
Total = FREE'
^ ... Staples offer (Nov. 26/27)
' ... Taxable = $69.94 ($4.90 in NC)
* ... For previous owners of a stand-alone or pre-loaded version of any Norton or Symantec software product. (Check website for complete details.)
IN THE BOX
Norton SystemWorks Premier is the most comprehensive package of system administration tools available from Symantec. Similar to the standard version of SystemWork, the Premier version advanced data recovery and backup tools for an additional $30. (MSRP = $99.95 + Tax)
- Norton AntiVirus 2005
- Norton Utilities 2005
--- Disk Doctor
--- System Doctor
--- Win Doctor
--- Speed Disk
--- Explorer Shell Extension
--- System Information
--- UnErase Wizzard
--- Wipe Info
- Norton GoBack
- Norton Ghost*
- CheckIt Diagnostics (by smithmicro)
- System Optimizer
- System Recovery Disk*
* ... Premier version only
With SystemWorks 2003 already installed, I only had to upgrade my existing installation. This is fundamentally the same as a fresh install, with exception of a preceeding system check and remove the old version (in my case 2003). Both were handled automatically by the setup routine and worked flawless.
The installation consists of several steps which are independent for Norton Utilities, GoBack, CheckIt and the Performance Test. (The latter two are not essential and users of SiSoft Sandra or Nero DVD-Speed might skip this step.)
I always choose a custom installation for maximum control and in this case disable the AntiVirus installation since I already own Norton Internet Security 2005, which also has Antivirus included. Nevertheless, as installation proceeded, I noticed that the setup didn't care about that and installed a fresh copy of Antivirus anyway. That's good since my license got another 2 months out of it, but it rearranges toolbar icons a little bit. Minor annoyance.
Note: The setup requires a reboot to complete installation. For security reasons most tool bar helpers are disabled upon the first reboot. (A windows error message may appear on WinXP that some program failed.) This is normal and should be resolved upon the second reboot, which is also necessary to finalize the configuration.
As with most mature software packages, differences are often more subtile as time progresses. So the difference to my previous version reassured me that skipping one year is quite okay. So what's different to version 2004? ...
- Compared to 2003, the interface has been slightly improved to allow immediate access to vital parameters. It also looks a little bit better, but sure works great.
- AntiVirus 2005 got improved with Internet Worm Protection and a quickscan that applies online updates of virus definitions immediately after download.
- GoBack now provides a SafeTry mode which creates a temporary environment to test newly installed programs without jeopardizing your 'real' system.
- Ghost now allows to create images without restart. Incremental updates are a great time and space saver. Backup can now be scheduled in intervals for automated protection. (Any of those changes apply to WinXP and 2000Pro only!)
- CheckIt Diagnostics is new and similar to SiSoft Sandra 2004, results are not directly comparable though.
- System Optimizer is another new tool that allows tweaking WindowsXP settings in one interface, similar to TweakXP (a free tool) but slightly more powerful. Nevertheless, it has nothing to do with disk optimizing or other performance enhancing tools.
- Norton Cleanup now finds and deletes temporary files from Internet sessions to keep your system more tidy.
WHAT DOES IT DO?
Norton AntiVirus is a proven tool to protect your system from known viruses. Online update is vital to keep the list of known threats up-to-date and with it the virus protection effective. In 2004 Norton recognized the threat that instant message attachments, incoming and outgoing email messages pose and improved protection greatly. Most useful is its ability to detect and eliminate spyware, adware and keystroke logging programs. Any of them are often greater security threat that some viruses.
Norton Utilities consists of several individual tools. Most useful are Disk Doctor, Win Doctor and Speed Disk. The latter fights fragmentation - a typical cause for Windows systems to slow down over time. It can be configured how much in depth one wants to optimize stored files, but Speed Disk generally takes a little longer to rearrange than the rather basic Disk Defragmenter that's included with WinXP. More directly related to system health are registry entries and corrupt files. Both problems can be solved with Win Doctor and Disk Doctor. Both programs are easy to use and powerful helpers.
System Doctor just monitors your system and displays health status but does not actually cure it. The displayed information can be configured to the user's needs. Neat tool, but I barely every use it to be honest.
Explorer Shell Extension allows to execute most of Norton Utilities from a DOS environment. This is only relevant but still very handy in situations where Windows is unable to load (at all). Warning, experienced users only!
System Information is more detailed that the standard windows tool, the respective tool in SystemWorks allows to glance over system parameters (i.e. CPU type, hardware settings) without opening the case. Works fine, but in my case the program repeatedly crashes when trying to read the info for my hard drives.
Wipe Info makes sure that a file is physically erased from your hard drive and cannot be retrieved even by Norton's own UnErase, the tool to recover accidentally deleted files. Great idea for businesses and home users alike.
System Optimizer provides an easy to use interface for changing system parameters in even more detail than TweakXP. It allows direct access to many parameters that are otherwise inaccessible. Great tool for tuning your system, but be sure to understand parameters you're going to change.
System Recovery Disk is included and does not need to be created anymore (as in 2004 or before). It sure takes the guessing out whether the disk is correct and relieves users without a CD burner, if those should still exist. In the event that your system cannot boot Windows from the HD anymore, just boot from this disk (changes in BIOS may be required) and try to save your system.
Norton Ghost helps to recover a system from a saved backup (on CD or DVD) if the System recovery above was unsuccessful. Make sure to keep the backup updated to prevent major data loss.
Norton GoBack creates a temporary environment that allows you to test new programs and accept or reject changes to your system. A new search bar makes it easy to find the files or folders you want to restore. Most similar to XP's checkpoints is the ability to restore a disk drive to a previous 'healthy' state after a system crash, failed software installation, user error, virus attack, or other problem. Unlike the Microsoft version, GoBack also allows to restore just the files or folders you need and gives more control to the user.
Process Viewer displays detailed information about Windows processes - just like Windows' TaskManager, but more in depth and without the graphical tools for system resources.
PerformanceTest benchmarks your computer's performance against similar machines, but frankly is not widely used and results are hard to compare to more sophisticated tests like Sysmark or 3dMark.
Given the excellent price (basically free), Norton SystemWorks is an absolute must for everybody who wants to keep their system in good health (including and beyond viruses). If you're the kind user that does not know the difference between delete and format, SystemWorks Premier provides a few safety nets but may be overkill for you.
Even at the full price, SystemWorks adds a great number of tools to your Windows PC, that otherwise require much more in-depth knowledge (i.e. where to find a certain parameter) or simply are impossible with the standard installation of Windows.
For 'lightweight' system administrators, the standard version of SystemWorks will do just fine and eventually save $30 - unless you got to buy it on Nov 26th or 27th at Staples and in that case, it doesn't get much cheaper than FREE.
Either way, it's an awesome set of tools to keep your computer up and running.