It doesn't seem like a year since Norton did a great job of refining its "family friendly" security suite but version 3 of 360 has arrived, keen to keep its place as the favourite all-in-one tool of choice for the home user.
Those looking for a range of powerful new features might initially be underwhelmed by what is essentially a focus on improving efficiency, though there are some worthwhile additions thrown in.
Performance, both in terms of scan times and system overheads, is significantly better here though and this is largely to do with Norton's Insight tool. When run, the software uses a database of "safe" files that it'll cross-reference with those on your system so that it can ignore them during future scans.
During our tests this resulted in almost a 500% improvement during a quick scan and despite using a relatively low-powered test system, we didn't notice any slowdown during operation. Regular updates at no longer than 15 minute intervals ensure the latest definitions are always to hand, and widespread certification from independent labs such as West Coast and ICSA put its capabilities, rather predictably, up there with the best on the market.
Aside from prevention and protection, Norton's powerful firewall is now far more tweakable and edges closer to the level of control on offer from the more advanced Internet Security suite. This is balanced nicely with solid automatic program control to allow the firewall to work silently and efficiently in the background, so beginners shouldn't be overwhelmed, but advanced users looking for more control should now find it here.
Another significant addition comes in the form of a Startup Manager, which sits in the TuneUp suite and allows you to turn off or delay loading of various startup programs. You're also told how much impact they are likely to have on system performance, making it easier to come to informed decisions on how to improve startup times.
Finally, improved web access tools protect you against phishing and integrate with Internet Explorer and Firefox to rate websites and search results with safety levels. Secure user information and login details can be stored for auto-completion of forms on various sites, though we're a little disappointed to note that while logins and identity information can be imported from IE, the same doesn't go for Firefox and other popular browsers.
These improvements aside, Norton 360 should be very familiar to users of previous versions, with an almost identical interface and a similar level of integrated operation that allows you to scan, backup and tuneup in one fell swoop or at predetermined intervals. It's still a powerful, easy to use and comprehensive security solution with a massive range of tools and protection available and aside from some minor issues, it's difficult to fault.
Despite the fact that Norton 360 is among the most expensive security suites on the market, those looking for an all-in-one solution with a similar collection of tools won't find one better. Even though most of the improvements in this version focus on refining and streamlining operation, there's a noticeable impact to be seen and the new tools that are available are welcome additions.