Hands on: Norton Internet Security 2012 adds performance features

The latest version of Symantec's security suite for Windows offers a startup manager, better monitoring of trustworthy sites, and a number of other improvements.

1 2 Page 2
Page 2 of 2

Norton Management

NIS 2012 recognizes that the computing world is increasingly located in the cloud. So Symantec has added a new feature, Norton Management, that the company says will let you install and uninstall Norton applications on your PCs from a single, cloud-based location, check their security status, and see subscription and license information. (I wasn't able to test it because I was told that the feature wouldn't go live until after launch.)

Norton Management will work only for Windows-based products, not Norton's mobile lineup. I hope Symantec will eventually add the ability to manage its mobile software via this cloud-based feature.

Identity Safe and Bandwidth Awareness

There are a number of other, less important new features and improvements in NIS 2012. Norton's password manager, Identity Safe, has been moderately improved, with a slightly redesigned interface; it now syncs its information to the cloud so that it is always backed up. With Identity Safe, you create logins for sites, such as Amazon and others that require your user name and password, and Identity Safe logs you in when you visit.

In the redesigned interface, Identity Safe doesn't pop up over your browser and interfere with your interaction with the Web site. Instead, it appears inside the browser at the top of the screen. In addition, your logins are synced to the cloud so that you can use them from any computer that has NIS 2012 installed.

Another feature, called Bandwidth Awareness, is designed for laptops. It lets you prevent Norton from downloading large updates to itself as a way to save bandwidth in certain instances -- for example, if you're using the mobile hotspot feature of your smartphone and are charged for bandwidth or have monthly bandwidth limits.

Norton's Bandwidth Awareness lets you stop NIS 2012 from downloading updates when you're using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.

In theory, this sounds helpful, but in practice it leaves much to be desired. It doesn't offer granular controls -- so, for example, if you use Bandwidth Awareness on your laptop, it will turn off downloads of large Norton updates whenever you use Wi-Fi (including your home or work Wi-Fi network), not just when you're connected to a mobile hotspot. You can control it on an adapter-by-adapter basis -- so you can ban your laptop from downloading the updates when using a Bluetooth connection but allow it via Wi-Fi -- but since, in my experience, it's rare that people use Bluetooth connections to gain Internet access with their smartphones, this feature is less than useful.

Minor interface changes

NIS has also received a number of minor interface changes. For example, NIS's main window is now much simplified. Rather than showing a panel that lets you turn on and off various components, there are three large buttons: one to let you launch a scan, another that shows the status of LiveUpdate, and a third that sends you to the Advanced screen, which is essentially the main screen from NIS 2011.

There's also a live world map that shows you cybercrime hot spots, as well as smaller icons across the bottom with links to other features. These icons, though, are somewhat misleading, because while some of them lead you to features built into NIS (such as Safe Web), others lead you to what are essentially pitches to buy additional Symantec products, such as Norton Online Backup. These, I believe, have no place in an application's interface, and should be clearly labeled as sales pitches rather than features.

The other most noticeable interface change is to the settings interface, which has been streamlined and simplified. It's an improvement, but not a dramatic one.

Bottom line

NIS 2012 is a solid and useful upgrade over the 2011 version, primarily because of new features that let you streamline your PC's startup and check for unstable applications. The new cloud-based features are useful, but not overwhelmingly so.

The only thing that might give one pause about NIS 2012 is its relatively hefty annual subscription fee of $69.99, although that does cover three PCs. NIS 2012 is priced $10 below the more comprehensive Symantec product called Norton 360 that includes all the features in NIS and adds online backup and PC tuneup features. However, the newest NIS 2012 feature set is not yet built into Norton 360 (which tends to be updated about five or six months after NIS).

The upshot? Existing NIS users will certainly want to upgrade right away. Those who use competing programs would do well to give it a look as well, keeping in mind the $69.99 annual fee.

Preston Gralla is a contributing editor for Computerworld.com and the author of more than 35 books, including How the Internet Works (Que, 2006).

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

1 2 Page 2
Page 2 of 2
It’s time to break the ChatGPT habit
Shop Tech Products at Amazon