Norton Internet Security 2009 beta ramps up

Symantec's latest iteration of NIS tries to do its job without overloading your system -- and it seems to be succeeding.

Getting performance up to speed

Regardless of whether NIS deserves it, customers are in fact blaming security suites for sluggish performance. In fact, Symantec has been citing an August 2007 NPD Group market study of customers who switched security suites. It found that of those who switched, 39 per cent blamed performance, 28 per cent blamed functionality, and only 23 per cent pointed to price.

In fact, in NIS 2009, Symantec is covering its butt when it comes to getting blamed for performance drag. Instead of just assuming that your security suite is causing performance degradation, you should be able to check NIS 2009's version of the Task Manager's CPU Meter, which should spell out whether Norton or other system components are to blame.

I say "should" because I couldn't find this feature, even though other reviewers have cited it as being on the main home screen. Ultimately, a support technician told me that the CPU usage meter is found only in the NIS 2009 .61 build but is missing from the later .69 build that I tested. When the final product ships, you should be able to find the meter under Settings --> Auto Protect --> Configure --> Miscellaneous.

So I couldn't drill down into CPU Meter, but I'm looking forward to seeing it in the final product. I question why Symantec is so thoroughly hiding it away from easy access, however. After all, if security companies are tired of being blamed for poor CPU performance, shouldn't a don't-blame-me feature be front and center?

One particularly big performance boost in NIS 2009 comes from what Symantec claims is an industry first: Norton Insight, a technology that identifies trusted files that don't require a scan, thus drastically whittling down the number of files that require scanning in the first place.

Leveraging data from millions of Norton Community members, Norton Insight lets Norton security products avoid scanning files that are found on most computers and statistically determined to be trusted. Symantec estimates that more than 65 per cent of files will never need to be scanned, but I lucked out: The Norton Process Trust page graphically rendered the pleasing fact that 77 per cent of the files on my system are trusted, leaving a mere 23 per cent that required scanning. NIS 2009 also promises to avoid redundant multiple scans, such as those that occur before, during and after a file is copied.

Symantec has also introduced features such as silent mode, which automatically suspends alerts and updates to avoid interrupting or slowing down games, movies or other presentations.

All in all, performance has improved drastically. After a week of running the beta, I'm no longer interrupted by updates and scans, some of which managed to crash my poky system under NIS 2008. What I'm seeing instead is that after I return from leaving the system idle for any appreciable time, I find a message telling me that updates are being done -- updates that stop until I wander off again.

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Lisa Vaas

Computerworld
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