NIS's interface is easy to navigate, shows the status of its defenses at a glance, and retains the big Block Traffic button at the upper left.
NIS 2004, like Microsoft Windows XP, now requires product activation. Unlike Microsoft, however, Symantec gives users the benefit of the doubt by allowing up to five installations to account for changes in the original PC's hardware or a reinstallation after a hard drive crash.
NIS 2004's interface is now more consistent throughout, with color-coded indicators on the main screen that quickly show you which modules are running and which need your attention. This is an improvement over NIS 2003, which displayed the firewall's status in an unclear, text-style interface. Simply navigate the suite by clicking icons in the bar at the left or get configuration settings of any module by clicking the appropriate link on the right. Norton Internet Security 2004 bundles Norton AntiVirus and Norton Personal Firewall with Norton AntiSpam, then throws in additional Web filtering tools and privacy and parental controls. While Norton AntiVirus and Personal Firewall are the heart of the suite, they remain relatively unchanged from last year's versions. The most notable improvement--and, we think, the reason to upgrade--is the excellent Norton AntiSpam (NAS) 2004.
Before you begin installing, NIS offers to scan your hard drive for viruses, worms, and other threats--a nice touch.
NAS 2004 lets you create lists of people whose mail should always reach your in-box, lists of addresses to block, and spam rules of your own. NAS also includes its own preset list of antispam rules (unfortunately, you can't view or edit the list), and Symantec constantly updates that list via its LiveUpdate feature. Unlike McAfee's SpamKiller, NAS 2004 lets you use buttons on the Outlook, Outlook Express, or Eudora toolbars to immediately tag a message as spam.
Like McAfee Internet Security (MIS) 6.0, NIS 2004 also includes parental controls, which let you block sites from young children, and various cookie controls. Unlike MIS 6.0, unfortunately, NIS 2004 doesn't include a password manager. (Norton Password Manager 2004 is available as a standalone app or bundled with Norton SystemWorks 2004.) Symantec's tech support is relatively unchanged from last year--and it's still expensive. The new Support Assistant, available from the Symantec Web site, takes less than a minute to download and install, automatically recognizes the version of NIS on your PC, then guides you to the most likely problems and solutions. None matched our test problems, however, so we ended up searching the online knowledge base each time. Frankly, the Support Assistant is a waste of precious time.
Symantec's Automated Support Assistant displays a couple of popular problems relating to your version of NIS.
You can also contact a help-desk technician via e-mail--if you can find the form. It's a multistep process that Symantec should simplify.
Phone support is available, but it costs $29.95 per incident or $2.95 per minute and is available only on weekdays from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT. Once you do reach a real person, whether by e-mail or by phone, you'll get first-rate help. We called and e-mailed with the same question and got accurate answers both times, although it took Symantec two business days to respond to our e-mail.