Speed is of essence for next-generation Symantec products

Users hit start-up times, hard-drive scanning slowdowns

Symantec Corp. is setting a high bar on performance for the new versions of its security products, due in 2009.

The chief complaint that Symantec hears from customers is how much of a drag the software is on PC speeds, from start-up times to hard-drive scanning, said Con Mallon, product marketing director for Symantec's consumer division in Europe, on Friday.

Symantec has "certainly taken a hit" over performance in the past two years, Mallon said. But the company has charged its chief engineering team, located in Culver City, Calif., with making several of the products in its Norton line less bloated.

Installation times now range from eight to 10 minutes, Mallon said. The new goal is for that time to be one minute or less.

Symantec's latest consumer suite, Norton 360 Version 2.0, takes between 20 and 30 seconds to load after a PC is started. Symantec would like to trim that to 10 seconds or less, Mallon said.

Another target is to reduce the overall size of its programs to no more than 100MB, which, in some cases, would mark a fourfold reduction.

Those goals aren't easy to reach, as each requires major modifications to the software. "From a technical point of view, this is tough new stuff," Mallon said.

Engineers will be working on the improvements for the next versions of Norton Internet Security and Norton AntiVirus, both of which have antispyware, antivirus and other functions. Eventually, the improvements will be worked into the next version of Norton 360, Mallon said.

The last chief goal is to speed up scanning times, one of the most laborious tasks for security software that consumes processor power, since files are checked on the entire hard drive, Mallon said. Symantec is developing technology that would allow the scanner to skip certain trust files, such as core components of Microsoft's Excel spreadsheet program, in order to speed up the overall scan.

However, other countermeasures will have to be included so that the security software doesn't reveal which files are not scanned, which could tip off hackers, he said.

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