PC Apps

Norton Futilities 2006

Symantec Corp. began humbly in 1982 as the purveyor of the much celebrated Norton Utilities software suite. (edit – this product is listed online as belonging to Norton and as Symantec – I don’t know which is correct) The suite was popular for a reason – it provided a number of powerful, easy-to-use diagnostic and repair utilities for MS-DOS computers.

In the early 90’s the Norton software family expanded to include Norton Antivirus (largely made popular by the infamous Michelangelo virus fiasco) – a high quality preventive maintenance application backed by some of the cleverest security experts in the industry. Other products intended for the corporate sector, such as Norton Ghost, helped expand the brand by equating Norton with cost savings, automation, and security.

Fast forwarding to the days of Windows 95 – a renaissance of personal computing – Symantec made a big push for the prime real-estate on home PC users’ desktops. Their new annual utility suite, Norton SystemWorks, brought to light some of the behind-the-scenes operations and bottlenecks of Microsoft’s glorious new operating system. Unfortunately, the ironically titled SystemWorks was one of the first examples of bloatware; the various hard disk, CPU, and memory monitors had a huge clock cycle and memory footprint. Still, Symantec prevailed due to their tried-and-true marketing tactic: FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt). The suite’s boxart proclaimed that within the plastic wrapping resided “Powerful tools to solve PC problems and protect data,” and “additional advanced problem-solving tools.” Translated, this can more or less declares, “You’re having computer problems. The most serious problems are the ones you don’t know about. You don’t only need tools, you need ADDITIONAL ADVANCED tools. Can you afford not to buy this software?”

In Symantec’s defense, despite their viral marketing schemes, the company did not rest on its laurels when it came to their signature products. Updates for Norton Antivirus became more comprehensive and frequent, and Ghost became more powerful and flexible. In the case of Antivirus, this increasing complexity came at a price – later iterations consumed upwards of 50MB of RAM while simply idling. The oblivious novice PC user paid little mind to this, largely unaware of the software’s huge tax on system resources, or of the existence of competitors’ products. To Symantec’s chagrin, this popularity made their Antivirus a prime target for virus authors who took on a crusade to break their security products and to punish consumers for subscribing to the mainstream, the growing corporation, and primarily, the FUD.

Release after release, bloat after bloat, Symantec snowballed into a publisher of software by other companies, acquiring recognized brands and\or diluting them. The corporation’s recent acquiry of Sygate Inc., the former makers of my favourite free firewall Sygate Personal Firewall, have resulted in the discontinuation of their products and obfuscation of legacy downloads. Other recent acquiries include tech companies Bindview and IMLogic who no doubt face similar fates.

Even competing not-for-profit companies face persecution and blackballing by the bludgeoning giant. Spybot Search & Destroy was falsely labeled as spyware by the Norton Internet Security suite, and was removed only when Patrick Kolla, Spybot’s sole programmer, threatened Symantec with legal recourse and bad publicity. Symantec pleaded with Mr. Kolla to keep the “oversight” quiet, and to handle the situation in an “honourable” fashion, even though the company did not question or inform him about the false positive. Since this incident in April 2005, Symantec has ostracized Spybot once again, claiming that the innocuous software is incompatible with their Ghost suite. After the mutually agreed-upon week’s leeway expired, Mr. Kolla made public his opinions of the recently rival company.

With the facts established, my editorial begins.

Symantec is not in the business of providing security. They are not interested in cleaning your inbox or making your system run smoothly. Not anymore.

Symantec are experts in marketing, in snake oil, and in FUD. They’ve even added the Symantec ThreatCon to their website, akin to the never-safe-to-go-for-a-walk American Department of Homeland Security Advisory System. Note that neither system can possibly indicate a state of peace; the lowest point on Symantec’s scale is 25% danger, while the baseline of the DHS Advisory is “Low risk of terrorist attacks.”

Not only has the company’s marketing and corporate strategy become more aggressive, but their resources have seemingly (I speculate) been transferred largely to advertising and securing good press. For instance, it is curious that rates Norton Antivirus 2005 an excellent 4/5 stars, yet at the time of this article 314 users rate the product an average of 2.5/5 stars. I$ it po$$ible the average PC u$er i$ deprived of $ome point of con$ideration known only to the web$ite’$ profe$$ional reviewer$?

There are many freeware and low-cost third-party solutions to many issues Symantec falsely purports to resolve on home PCs, and they are far more deserving of your patronage. Don’t be dazzled by the company’s illustrious brand. As a PC repair technician I’ve had untold difficulties with Norton products; particularly Antivirus. Once you get a virus that targets NAV specifically, it’s all over. You can’t uninstall NAV and you can’t install anything else because most AV products don’t install if an existing one is detected. I urge all my clients and all my readers to uninstall ALL Norton products from your computer NOW, even if you’ve paid for an active subscription, and truly ensure the security of your data by downloading any of these free applications:

Avast Antivirus
Grisoft AVG
Kaspersky Antivirus

Sygate Personal Firewall (mirrors)
Zonelabs ZoneAlarm
Kerio Personal Firewall
Outpost Firewall

Spybot Search & Destroy
Lavasoft Ad-Aware

By brian

About Brian Damage:

Who is Brian really?
I live in Toronto, Canada, and work for an IT firm. That's about as much real-world info I'm comfortable divulging here. What you read on my blog is the real Brian, but, for the sake of freedom of speech, I feel most comfortable leaving a gulf between my cyberspace and meatspace personae.

Who is Brian at work?
My ridiculous job title is "Marketing Specialist" since I wear so many hats at work. I'm a technical writer, a specialist in enterprise search technologies, an electronic forms designer, a newsletter author, system administrator... but I'm in the Marketing department so for the time being I'm stuck with this inauspicious title.

Who is Brian at play?

Who is Brian