Symantec's Norton updates for 2012 launched today with the expected slate of performance improvements and interesting ancillary features and with a hint of a much stronger connection between the company's desktop and mobile offerings. The robust Norton Internet Security 2012 (download) and slimmer Norton AntiVirus 2012 (download) introduce several new features and reasonable but not amazing performance bumps.
There's now a link at the bottom of the main interface to Norton's mobile version. Next to it is a link for Norton Management, a new tool which opens in your default Web browser that allows you to use Norton remotely. This includes monitoring security status, remote add and installation, and license key renewal. However, given the growth of the mobile market, it wouldn't be unreasonable to expect a stronger connection between the two in the coming year.
One of the better new features is a change to Download Insight. This community-driven tool originally evaluated files being downloaded for security, but now it looks at their stability among other Norton users, too. There's also metered bandwidth options for people on rate-limited connections, and several interface tweaks to make the program easier on the eyes and easier to find things.
Most of the bigger improvements this time around come only to Norton Internet Security, in an attempt to up its usefulness with a bulkier feature set. One is the port of Norton 360's startup manager. If you're Windows savvy, you're probably comfortable handling that stuff by hand, but even for those in the know the Norton version makes startup changes easier to implement. Along with pulling in community ratings, you can toggle a process on or off, or delay it.
The Identity Safe has been improved, too. It now includes LastPass-styled password handling and cloud-based syncing and vaults, features that some competitors have had for a while. Google Chrome finally gets Safe Web support from Norton, but it's surprisingly not in Norton AntiVirus. While I understand the point of value-added features, this one seems an unnecessarily restrictive hit on users of the fastest-growing browser.
Fortunately, none of these changes appear to have impacted the hit on system performance. CNET Labs determined that both Norton Internet Security and Norton AntiVirus perform about the same. Independent, third-party testing organizations have also made the call that Norton continues to be one of the most effective security suites on the market.
Overall, Norton 2012 continues the "new" approach Symantec has had for the past four years, with top-shelf features and performance. And yet, it's still likely that, despite the enormous positive changes to the suite, that tough competition and prior negative reputation will continue to hinder its attempts to convince people that the leopard can change its spots.