Working in the utilities division of Symantec must at times be somewhat like working for an anarchist government - in a perfect world you wouldn't have a job. If Microsoft's operating systems were as robust and reliable as we'd all like them to be, then much of the Norton product set would be redundant.
But of course Microsoft's operating systems aren't perfect, so the Norton Utilities remain an essential part of many reseller's product sets.
According to Symantec's senior product man-ager Jeffrey Leeds, they are likely to remain so for a wee while longer. Symantec recently released updates to Norton Utilities for both Windows 95 and NT 4.0, and is already readying products for the upcoming release of Windows 98 (formerly codenamed Memphis) in Q1 next year.
"The version that we are working on for the next release will already be very Memphis focused," said Leeds. The final degree of compatibility will depend greatly on what Memphis actually is when it's released, but Leeds said any discrepancies will be addressed in a service pack or by live update. Unlike the release of Windows 95, Symantec will not offer a preview release for Windows 98.
Leeds said Symantec is also closely tracking NT 5.0. He is heartened by the fact that Microsoft will put an OEMed de-fragmentation tool in the new OS - a tool the vendor has previously said is unnecessary in the NT environment but which Symantec has been including in its NT-based products.
"It's now legitimising the need for a de-fragmentation tool," said Leeds, adding that the Microsoft product will not feature the scheduling or manageability features of the Symantec release.
Symantec chose to drop to features from the new release of Norton Utilities for NT; the file man-ager and virus detection. The first was dropped through lack of demand, the second due to Symantec releasing a fully-fledged version of Norton AntiVirus for NT.
While placing a considerable emphasis on Windows, Leeds said Symantec has also recently released an update to its Macintosh product, and will be ready for System 8.0 at its release.
Also under development is a new version of PC Handyman, its utility product for home users. Leeds said a new version will be different from the original release. "We've really listened to what our customers have told us about that product, what they liked about it and what they didn't like about it," he said.
Gone from the product set, though, is Norton Navigator, and with it the legacy of Norton Commander, XTree Gold and PC Tools. Leeds said while Navigator proved to be highly popular with those who used it, it simply didn't sell in numbers sufficient to warrant its continuation.
Where Symantec will be continuing to focus its efforts is in one of its more recent additions - CrashGuard. Leeds says Symantec now has the most efficient crash prevention utility in the market, claiming CrashGuard 2.0 can catch up to 66 per cent of all system crashes.
CrashGuard also provides users with a prognosis of how likely it is going to be in getting the problem fixed. "What our product does is prevent problems from happening, and give you a warning that a problem is coming up the pipe, so that you can deal with it before it's a big problem."
Leeds said that the accompanying anti-freeze product is also reporting around 70 per cent success in catching any of the 32-bit problems Windows can experience. He said Symantec has also been successful in getting the CrashGuard commands incorporated into the Control-Alt-Delete command for when an application crashes.
As for future features in the product set, Leeds said Symantec is looking at utilities to handle registry cleaning and application trimming.
While Symantec has had the utilities market pretty much to itself for some time, Leeds acknowledges that Symantec is now facing increased competition from other tools vendors such as McAfee and CyberMedia.
He is confident Symantec can hold its own. "We feel that we did it first, we do it best, and what it really boils down to, especially for disk level utilities, who do you want to trust?
"This is not for sissies, this is a serious business to get into. We feel as long as we continue to focus Norton Utilities in that direction, there's always going to be a market for utilities, and we're always going to be one step ahead of the competition and two steps ahead of Microsoft."