Symantec Norton SystemWorks 2005 Premier review

£46
Price when reviewed

The most famous of the Norton-branded products, this latest release from Symantec is the most feature-packed yet. Numerous system maintenance offerings are installed from a single CD and accessed from a single centralised control panel. There are plenty of familiar utilities sitting just a click or two away via the intuitive interface: System Optimizer, Process Viewer, Performance Tester, WinDoctor, Disk Doctor, UnErase and SpeedDisk.

But while Symantec may in the past have been accused of blindly leading Norton users into a cycle of annual upgrades, which didn’t deliver much in the way of new features, this most certainly isn’t the case with SystemWorks 2005. Perhaps the most obvious benefit is the inclusion of a full version of Norton GoBack 4, an application that can restore your computer to a previously working state following a system crash or virus infection. While it does pretty much the same job as the Windows System Restore, which is included as part of the standard XP OS, it comes with one important difference: SafeTry Mode. This creates a temporary environment for potentially disruptive activity, such as installing new software or sharing files online, so that if things go belly-up your system won’t go with it.

The newly added CheckIt Diagnostics from Smith Micro Software does a splendid job of interrogating both hardware and software before producing detailed reports of any problems it finds and helping you fix them. There’s also the One Button Checkup, which, although not new in itself, now offers comprehensive customisation options.

This ‘Premier’ edition of SystemWorks has a few more new tricks up its virtual sleeve, such as the inclusion of a Symantec Recovery Disk that enables you to boot your PC even if it won’t start otherwise. Not only does it enable booting but also the ability to restore backup images, run virus scans and make system repairs. It even works on both NTFS and FAT volumes.

Evidence of the Symantec acquisition trail can also be found in the form of PowerQuest’s Drive Image technology, which is now part of the Norton Ghost 9 disk-imaging suite. Both Ghost and Drive Image should be familiar to regular PC Pro readers, as we’ve raved about each of them in the past. Their effective integration into a single backup, restore and recover utility is to be applauded. The ‘hot imaging’ feature means you can create a secure disk image without rebooting or even exiting Windows. The addition of incremental backup and restore is a welcome time saver, with images being mounted as a drive letter and support for external storage devices meaning it really is hard to fault.

However, you may not think the same of Norton AntiVirus (NAV) if you’ve been following the online newsfeeds of late. A potential vulnerability has been highlighted by a Canadian security researcher, Dan Milisic, who claims that harmful scripts can get around the NAV script-blocking protection because it ignores certain types of VBScript that use Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI). Symantec assured us that the VBScripts in question, which could terminate the NAV system tray icon and prevent automatic pop-up alerts displaying, require action on behalf of a system administrator in order to avoid the script-blocking detection and cause any problems. Of course, signature-based detection would still be functional and in the event that malicious code were to be created from this VBScript, Symantec assures us it would simply add a signature to the virus definitions and the threat would be eliminated – the Security Response system routinely updates virus definitions daily.

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