Despite competitors such as McAfee Office and Ontrack System Suite nipping hungrily at its heels, Symantec's Norton SystemWorks remains the master utility suite - and with good reason.
Though not revolutionary, SystemWorks 2001 offers such useful additions as support for Windows NT and 2000, and it further streamlines the package's interface. The utility also retains the effective optimisation, monitoring, and diagnostic tools that we have come to expect.
One Button Checkup, a useful new feature, runs a full system check that finds and fixes problems ranging from fragmented drives to outdated virus definitions to Registry conflicts. All of these tests were available before, but you had to perform each individually.
One Button Checkup is unique among Windows utility suites. Its fast, easy-to-access system check (usually a minute or so) not only ferrets out many common problems (it looks for missing program files, bad shortcuts, and drive fragmentation), but also identifies more esoteric troubles (such as Registry irregularities) that can cause annoying or erratic behaviour and may otherwise be difficult to track down. When you click on the Start Fix button after the checkup's done, One Button automatically attempts to remedy all the problems it found.
In some cases, though, you will need to muster bigger guns to eradicate major gremlins. In my testing, One Button Checkup's automatic fix couldn't repair a thorny Registry problem on one of my systems. However, it suggested that I run the more comprehensive WinDoctor, and that did the trick.
The standard package includes Norton Utilities, AntiVirus, and CleanSweep. The Professional version adds Norton Ghost 2001 Personal Edition (for creating drive images) and WinFax 10 Basic Edition. The basic features remain virtually identical to those in SystemWorks 2000.
The features are easy to access via the well-integrated interface; all of them functioned smoothly on my test PCs (a Pentium II-333 and a PIII-600, each with 128MB of RAM). But as with previous versions, continuously running components such as System Doctor can take a bite out of PC performance, especially on systems slower than a PII-333. More memory mitigates this effect.
SystemWorks 2001 lacks one feature available in prior versions: Norton CrashGuard, a utility meant to help your PC recover from Windows crashes. A Symantec spokesperson said "user research" prompted the feature's removal. In fact, the CrashGuard utility caused more problems than it fixed, according to some analysts.
The company claims to have made a number of improvements "under the hood", some of which were not available in the pre-production version I tested. For example, AntiVirus is supposed to perform dramatically faster scans.
And according to Symantec, a new Security Analyzer feature will link you to a site where you can evaluate your PC's risk of virus infection and its susceptibility to hackers and other perils. (It is not a firewall, however.)
SystemWorks 2001's essential tool set should amply satisfy new users.
The Bottom Line
Norton SystemWorks 2001
Pros: One Button Checkup feature, improved interface.
Cons: Some components continue to adversely affect PC performance.
Value: Still the most comprehensive, best integrated utility suite.
Price: Enterprise Edition: $US17,500 per processor. More information is available from the company Web site.