Giving up on Norton

A momentous change in my personal computing environment yesterday, albeit partly to test the waters for my wife’s notebook:

After many years using Norton AntiVirus and, more recently, Norton Personal Firewall (and Norton Utilities/Norton Systemworks, but I never picked up Norton Internet Security as a suite), I switched to ZoneAlarm Suite 2007 yesterday.

I finally got tired of the five- to ten-second delay in opening a Word document while Norton scanned it (even though it was already scanning every email attachment and doing monthly full-disk scans). I was bemused by the extra minute or so on startup before Norton would agree that things were OK and free up resources for me to use. I found the monthly disk scans to be slower and slower… And while the firewall protection was good (in addition to the router’s hardware firewall, of course, and with Windows XP Firewall turned off), I knew that ZoneAlarm has a reputation for having an even better firewall. And for using less of system resources. (And it was time: my AV signature subscription only had 30 days to go, and Norton was hounding me several times a day…)

Economically, of course, this wasn’t the best choice. Depending on where I pick up TurboTax, I could probably get Norton Internet Security for next to nothing–or CA Suite, but I’ve seen the ratings for CA suite, so that wasn’t a realistic possibility. But, you know, sometimes you get what you pay for…

The real impetus was that, on my wife’s relatively slow notebook, it wasn’t five to ten seconds: It was/is up to thirty seconds to load a Word file–and sometimes, for no apparent reason, Norton would simply start using 99% of CPU resources for a few minutes. But she has 200+ days on her subscription, so wanted to make sure this was a worthwhile change.

I read the manual’s comment about five-minute install and connecting to the internet first, but I didn’t see anything about it automatically deleting competitive products, and I know what happens if you get two AV or firewall or spyware products running simultaneously. So I disabled the internet connection entirely, went through the slow, slow, annoying, slow process of uninstalling NAV and NPF (and disabling LiveUpdate–I’m keeping Norton SystemWorks 2003 for now, as a convenient way of cleaning the Registry and shortcuts from time to time), turned SpySweeper’s live scanning off…

And installed it. Started out with pretty much default settings, but turned off real-time spyware scanning (because most reviews say that SpySweeper is better), and reactivated SpySweeper scanning. A surprisingly fast install, at least after Norton’s marathon sessions.

The first restart felt like a disaster: The desktop background loaded–but no program icons, no Start menu, no Taskbar. Finally, after a minute or so, things showed up, and ZoneAlarm pretty much insisted on doing a full antivirus scan…all quarter million files (what are all those files? I’m responsible for maybe 2,000 of them). But it was only using about 14% of system resources, so I did some other light work while that was going on–and it was reasonably fast (maybe half an hour?). A spyware scan was very fast–less than five minutes–and flagged a few tracking cookies that had gotten past SpySweeper.

The second restart had another minute delay.

But the third one, and at least one since then, was back to normal, but better: Much less startup overhead. (OK, I did go through the whole msconfig Startup list, using web tools to check each name, and disabled a handful of startup things that I just don’t need). And it’s taking about two seconds for a Word file to open. ShieldsUp seems to think ZoneAlarm is doing a good job, which is in keeping with ZoneAlarm’s reputation.

So far, I’m happy. I’ll do another post in a month or so if I have other conclusions. And then, maybe, with crossed fingers, think about spending another $50 and doing the same for my wife’s notebook…

By the way, I’m now long past the point where my “new PC” has lasted longer than any other PC I’ve owned (two to three years was typically my cycle; this one, the least expensive PC I’ve ever owned, is now 4.5 years old)–and I still see no particular reason to replace it, at least until/unless Vista’s been out for a while, I’m not sure what that says.

4 Responses to “Giving up on Norton”

  1. Walt,

    I have been using the firewall part of Zone Alarm for quite a few years now. I have stuck it out with Norton’s only because my work has an enterprise subscription with free home use. I look forward to hearing about your experiences and will strongly consider the smaller price increase to a full Zone Alarm subscription since I am already paying for the firewall.

  2. I’m basically a Mac person, but recently bought a new Win XP PC because my son wanted one in the house. This thing came with Norton Security installed (90 day subscription), and drove me absolutely crazy with its warnings, alerts, etc., when I was getting the machine set up on our network. I tried turning off various components, but they turned themselves back on again every time the machine was rebooted.

    Phooey. I refuse to cede control of my own machine to Symantec/Norton or anyone else.

    I uninstalled it and replaced it with the much simpler MacAfee VirusScan. Life is much better.

    I don’t run AV software on either of my Macs, although they are firewalled out the whazoo… Open Source option of choice –highly rated — is Clam AV. Also has a Windows front end.

  3. walt says:

    Shirl, But MacAfee VirusScan presumably doesn’t include either a software firewall (ZoneAlarm’s classic strength) or spyware defenses. XP’s own firewall is inbound-only, making it considerably suboptimal.

  4. Brad K. says:

    I faced the same thing. My Norton SystemWorks subscription ran out in November. and they hounded the heck out of me. This seems such an obvious PR disaster for Norton — why would any company let a product cause so very much ill will for them?

    I made the mistake of renewing. Not only are the delays annoying, but Norton insists on hounding me several times an hour if I am not logged in, so they can check to see if my license is current. Again, they really do go out of their way to irritate current customers.

    Thanks for the encouraging report on ZoneAlarm.