Editors' note: On March 5, 2008, CNET revised its antispyware review ratings to emphasize a product's ability to remove spyware. The new ratings are based on the following formula: Installation (20 percent), Features (20 percent), Performance (50 percent), and Support (10 percent). In most cases a product's rating went down, expanding the range between highest and lowest rated.
Having improved a lot last year in Symantec's flagship antivirus product, it makes sense we'd see more modest enhancements for this year's Norton AntiVirus 2008. While Norton AntiVirus 2008's antivirus test results compare favorably to our Editors' Choice winner Kaspersky Anti-Virus 7, it's the user experience that suffers in this release. The final size, a hefty 300MB, makes us wonder what's taking up all that extra space--Norton AntiVirus 2008 is roughly six times the file size as Kaspersky. Unlike Kaspersky, Norton AntiVirus 2008 is only available in a single-user license edition. Unlike Kaspersky, Symantec provides Norton users with little explanation of its features or settings, either in the configuration settings or on its technical support section. Also we don't like Norton's dependency on Internet Explorer to explain Help items or services provided by Symantec (windows pop up in IE even when Firefox is your default browser), or that fee-based services have once again crept into the technical support section. All of these things distract the user and weigh the product down in our minds. Your computer is safe with Norton AntiVirus, it's just, do you really need all that extra stuff installed as well? For a look inside Norton, see our Norton AntiVirus 2008 slide show.
Norton AntiVirus costs $39.99 for a single license. By comparison, Panda Antivirus offers its three-user license for the same price. While Kaspersky is slightly more expensive, selling its single-user license for $49.95, it offers a three-user license for just $10 more. There are no three-user licenses available for Norton AntiVirus 2008, so, if you have two more computers in your home network, you'll have to pay $40 for each computer.
Norton AntiVirus 2008 runs on Windows XP and Windows Vista, but not Windows 2000 or any earlier version of Windows. Norton AntiVirus 2008 requires at least 256MB of RAM and a whopping 300MB hard drive (consuming roughly six times the space of most of its 2008 competitors). Symantec does offer a full function 15-day trail of Norton AntiVirus 2008.
LiveUpdate, which used to be a separate process, is now integrated into Norton AntiVirus 2008--and about time. Once the product is installed and you're asked to update, everything--program files and signature files--arrive on your desktop together, making the experience smoother and easier. Symantec says this year's LiveUpdate packets are more compressed.
Should you decide to uninstall Norton AntiVirus 2008, there is an uninstall option on the All Programs listing. This, we discovered after contacting Symantec, does little more than what Windows Add/Remove will do for you. In other words, it won't necessarily remove all traces of Norton AntiVirus 2008 from your PC. To do so, you need to use the Norton Removal Tool. According to Symantec, this Norton Removal Tool "uninstalls all Norton 2008/2007/2006/2005/2004/2003 products and Norton 360 from your computer." The difference, we were told, is that "the removal tool will remove shared components, like LiveUpdate, even if other Norton products that depend on the shared component are installed."
If first impressions are everything, Norton AntiVirus 2008 loses us at "Hello." The new interface design is dark and garish, almost a perverse joke on those seeking reassuring security for their desktop. The use of ominous thick black borders and orange graphics suggests Halloween, a look that could get old by March. Unlike Kaspersky and other antivirus applications, you can't change the look and feel of Norton AntiVirus 2008. The unfriendly look and feel is, perhaps, a deeper metaphor for the overall lack of the configuration settings within Norton AntiVirus 2008.
Our central problem is that Norton offers some wonderful features, but we have no way of tweaking any of them. Drilling down to the configuration settings we see "Turn on Suspicious Activity Monitoring" or "Turn on Bloodhound heuristics"--but do we really need these features? Symantec provides us with very little additional information (for example, the built-in Help file says only "Turn on Bloodhound heuristics," not what it does), continuing with a practice adopted long ago by Symantec of making decisions for the user rather than presenting the user with options. Then there's my favorite "Turn on Advanced Mode" under the Suspicious Activity Monitor--it's not on by default, so should we turn it on? (Apparently the only difference between regular and Advance Mode is that the Suspicious Activity Monitor will log it in regular and alert you in Advanced mode). Again, you have to accept that Norton has your best interests in mind.
Kaspersky also uses similar enable/disable options--that's really not at issue here. The difference between the products is that Kaspersky offers a thorough 323 page user's manual explaining your choices where Norton does not. Unless you are fluent in Symantec speak, configuration options such as Bloodhound, Browser Defender, and SONAR are meaningless. Nor can you truly customize these in any meaningful way, with few options to provide unique rules.
Symantec limits (if not removes) a user's ability to customize and tweak individual settings throughout Norton AntiVirus 2008; for example, there's no quick way to set Norton to only scan new or recently modified files. Head-to-head, Kaspersky gives users more enable/disable options.
We're also not keen on Symantec's use of a large yellow block in the task tray that says Norton all the time. While other vendors have discrete icons, even icons that rotate or blink, we found the constant advertisement in the lower-right-hand corner visually distracting and unnecessary. Norton AntiVirus 2008's popup alerts were no bigger or smaller than its competitors.