It's the end of the year and that retail-friendly yellow box is pointlessly large. Yes it's Symantec Suite update time again. However some standards are maintained by the company; the 220 page manual is all English and a glossary at the back of the book explains the more technical terms.

This year the product must be activated, Windows-XP style, after 15 days. For evaluation purposes this is a good thing, after a fortnight you should know whether this suite is for you. Even beyond that Symantec retains the 60-day money back guarantee operated through retail dealers.

Before you even start, Antivirus will offer to check your machine for viruses in the OS, without needing to reboot. Norton Antivirus needs no explanation, it's the all-conquering champ on name recognition terms alone and unlike McAfee, the 2002 version never let me down during the year of personal use, and when disabling the tray icon for driver installation or gaming purposes, re-enabling had no effect or delay on the ability to auto-update. The interaction with Outlook is as excellent as ever, tagging spam and checking incoming and outgoing mail for viruses.

The setup of this year's version is smooth as silk, especially over our newly created Wireless network created by the Linksys router tested in the hardware section. The intelligent configuration allowed the client PC to access the existing shared connection. Privacy Control allows you to protect information such as banking details, home or email address and credit cards, but as noted, when on secure websites that is the job of the online retailer so the suite won't cover them there. It'll also work in conjunction with the three big Messenger clients from Yahoo!, AOL and Microsoft.

For parental control (this is, following the assumption the parent knows more than the child when setting up the software), the parent can set themselves up as supervisor, allow adult accounts where those individual settings only can be changed, teen accounts where browsing freedom is increased, and the most restricted child setting. Neither children nor teens can adjust the settings laid down by the supervising account.

The Personal Firewall is also extremely powerful and in some cases, works too well. For the past three versions users of 3Wthreads v5.4.1php, now renamed to Infopop on some sites, have been stopped from posting to those forums with “the host you are trying to send the input from is not a valid post” error. The main issue was whether this problem had been solved after three versions and two years. Sadly, Internet Security 2004 still possesses this flaw and it's a shame this puts a dent in the value of the package, when you have to disable one part of it and reinstall ZoneAlarm or any other firewall, just because the company do not regard fixing a long-running issue as a priority. There is simply no excuse for this, when ease of updating is the reason Live!Update was conceived.

The other issue with Antispam, laudable inclusion though it is, is that downloading your mail via POP3 from a Hotmail or MSN Account is already a chargeable service. So it's an admission that the filters in place are far from perfect, even though Microsoft delete any junk at a much faster speed than many other free networks. It does work with the popular Eudora email client however, so anyone forwarding from their own domain can still make use of this.

The other annoyance is that if you've backed up your machine using Norton Ghost and Uninstalled it, LiveUpdate insisted on continuing to download the updates for it, whether or not it was on the PC and so if you're on 56K, wasting precious time in your two-hour allocation that could be spent getting the essential signature files and firewall/AntiSpam updates. This is all the more irritating when shop-bought copies may require over 30 Megabytes of updates in total, without downloading superfluous files as well.

The entire suite's also something of a resource hog, and can't really be recommended for pre-ME machines as it'll eat existing resources for breakfast- stick with McAfee on older machines, or else the bad reviews you may have read on Amazon have a high chance of coming true. Then again Symantec know this and while you have two months to watch out for crashes and refund it, the guarantee won't bring back any time or data lost.

Price when reviewed:

Considering this package rides high in the chart every year and almost all year round, you'd think it was in Symantec's interest to ensure every part of the package was working properly. Were it not for this flaw we'd have been looking at a hot product, as the Antivirus software is hard to fault at the moment.

As an upgrade the product is cheaper- £28. and £46 for the 2004 full version. Compared to £23.50 (upgrade) and £37 (full) for Antivirus alone, then using any other firewall which would let you post where you like, the bundles remain compelling in spite of our misgivings. Antivirus is certainly the heart of it and as long as you don't mind disabling Norton's firewall and using another, Internet Security 2004 is still a good buy. However it's time to fix the one recurring flaw with this package once and for all. Otherwise just get Antivirus or check out the two Norton SystemWorks bundles for the crown jewels doubled up with the excellent Norton Ghost, and pick a firewall of your own.