Norton SystemWorks 2005

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, December 2004, updated May 2005
Published by: Symantec
Requires: Pentium computer; Windows 98, Me, 2000, XP, Media Center Edition, Tablet PC Edition; 264MB available hard disk space and an additional 10% of your total hard disk space for GoBack's history files; DirectX 8 or higher
MSRP: US$69.95 (Standard), US$99.95 (Premier)

You may think that a quick browse through the Windows 'temp' folder, a few deletions and a perfunctory sally through a few other obvious locations is enough to keep the adware, spam, hijackers and worms at bay. You'd be wrong. Windows XP is so unreservedly complex that any seriously thorough clean out of all the detritus, nonsense and idiocy collected deliberately (and inadvertently too, for sure) while downloading, surfing the 'Net and just sending and receiving e-mail, requires a program created by a team of highly skilled designers and programmers. Life in Windowsland is most assuredly not simple. Thus, spake the computer muses, you need something which digs deep, understands the vagaries of Windows itself, recognizes the degree to which hijackers, worms, viruses and tracking attacks can pollute a typical PC, and yet presents you with a user interface which does not require an engineering degree to figure out. Say hello to Norton SystemWorks 2005.

Norton SystemWorks 2005 is a comprehensive set of utilities which reside within a single user interface—a set of individual utility modules controlled through a single master panel if you will. It's a common design approach for this sort of powerful tool set and we've seen almost identical approaches in PentaSuite, SystemSuite and other top-drawer utility software. SystemWorks 2005 is used to scan your system for faults, useless files, dangerous files, fragmented files, messed up Registry entries, viruses, worms, trojans, hijackers and hardware problems, getting rid of all the junk it finds, optimizing your system as it goes and keeping track of everything you install so that in the event of a problem, you can roll back the state of your computer to a point in time when it worked properly.


Several elements of SystemWorks 2005 are available as standalone programs from Symantec including Norton AntiVirus, Norton Utilities and Norton GoBack. SystemWorks 2005 also incorporates Smith Micro Software's CheckIt Diagnostics. The SystemWorks 2005 Premier version includes Symantec Recovery Disk and Norton Ghost v9. Obviously, the feature and function set in SystemWorks 2005 is enormous. What we wanted to find out was whether or not all the superior benchmarks SystemWorks 2005 has set in controlled test situations would stand up under rigorous real-world use on a couple of very busy business computers. We also wanted to find out how easy to use it would be for non-technical people.

Installation of SystemWorks 2005 is a lengthy process—an hour or more including all extras and a full system scan. The software installs its detection and cleaning hooks deep into Windows. We installed SystemWorks 2005 on two computers: a) a Pentium 4/2.8GHz office productivity system used for word processing, spreadsheets, e-mail, and online research, and b) a Pentium 4/3.2GHz graphics system used for desktop publishing, image/photo editing and some video editing. Both systems see dozens, if not hundreds of new files which arrive from sources all over the place every day. Both systems also run MSN Messenger 6.x and Yahoo Instant Messenger. Both systems had been running V-Com's SystemSuite 5 administered by an IT technician on a weekly basis. The requirement for this review was that the actual computer users would have to add computer maintenance to their regular activities.

We set up a schedule which required both computer users to do maintenance on their machines three times per week, taking no more than 30 minutes each time. We also made sure that both users thoroughly read the SystemWorks 2005 manual and online help from beginning to end. As a group, the three of us also reviewed SystemWorks 2005 after the second week of regular use. It was a useful little meeting that revealed some surprising results. First and foremost, it turns out we all agreed on which components were the most frequently used (and by implication also the most useful): System Optimizer - customizes every major aspect of Windows, WinDoctor - complete analysis, repair and clean up of the entire Registry, and WipeInfo - secure erasure of data and all records of program, file and Internet use.

Cons: Norton SystemWorks 2005 includes a number of functions which requires the installation of extra utilities, all of which are supplied on the program CD. It's a mystery why everything isn't installed in the first place considering that since the main installation takes about an hour anyway (including a full system scan), what real difference would a few more minutes make in order to get everything installed from the CD? Norton GoBack, CheckIt Diagnostics, Norton CleanSweep, System Doctor and System Information require separate installs. Installing new software which uses poorly designed installation scripts can give you a headache when the Norton antivirus component is running. What happens is that Norton starts to check each and every new file being installed which is fine and dandy unless the new program's installer happens to use a poorly designed script or otherwise writes files in a manner which alerts Norton to potential problems. The result is either a computer which slows to a crawl, or an aborted installation of the new program. There's no way to know for sure when problems like this are going to happen, so we recommend disabling any antivirus program when installing brand name software at least. The SystemWorks 2005 user interface does not provide enough up-front plain language explanation to inexperienced users about what's going on. That sometimes makes it difficult for such users to commit themselves to deleting trash files, tracking cookies and other much worse files when clean up results appear and decisions have to be made about what files to kill and what files to keep.

Pros: That Symantec has figured out how to effectively design and produce this sort of software after so many years of pounding away at it is not surprising. There's lots of competent competition too, but Symantec with its Symantec Antivirus Resource Center (SARC) and a support web site the size of a small county, has learned the hard way that installing this kind of software on millions of computers comes with certain responsibilities. The antivirus component detected every single nasty virus, worm, trojan and hijack thing which flowed into our inbox during three weeks of continuous daily use—no misses, no problems. Outbound e-mail is scanned and cleaned of viruses and other stupidity just as thoroughly as inbound e-mail. The file protection routines in SystemWorks 2005 work like a charm and essentially prevent anything from modifying the Registry and key system files unless the changes are absolutely safe. Registry cleaning was flawless, providing improvements in boot up and general operational speeds. Straightforward wizards guide users through hard disk and Internet browser cleanups. Lots of emergency recovery tools including the ability to create startup disks, CD images of key disk information, and full compatibility with Windows NTFS partitions as well as FAT and FAT32 partitions. SystemWorks 2005 is the only product of its type right now that features full compatibility with XP (all versions), Windows Media Center Edition and Tablet PC Edition. The version we tested and the Premier edition are well worth the money. SystemWorks 2005 (in any version) will protect your PC, stabilize your PC, clean up your PC, restore your PC, recover lost files on your PC and general help to prevent you from making a fool of yourself. We never expected our review guinea pigs to memorize the product documentation we forced them to read thoroughly before installing SystemWorks 2005. What the reading process did however was prepare both people for a number of situations in which they found problems during systems maintenance and scans. Because both people had read the product documentation from beginning to end, they quickly turned back to the documentation to help them decide what to do to solve the problems discovered by the software rather than sitting back and dithering about the problems. The expression RTFM applies nowhere more appropriately than it does with Norton SystemWorks 2005. RTFM and you will be happy, your computer will be happy, and you'll enjoy a lot of trouble-free time with your PC. Highly recommended.





© Copyright 2000-2007 All rights reserved. legal notice
home | previous reviews | forums | about us | search | store | subscribe


Forums Search Home Previous Reviews About Us Store Subscribe