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First look: Norton's 2012 desktop, smartphone security push

Norton today released an updated version of its Norton 360 desktop and mobile security software, while also rolling out a new licensing arrangement for combined PC, Mac and Android use.

In addition, Norton announced a novel plan for a new kind of customer support called "Norton One" that involves individualized unlimited assistance for customers who are mystified by computers, security and software -- if they're willing to pay the annual membership fee.

ANALYSIS: Antivirus software sales expected to show strong growth in 2012

Symantec's Norton 360 Version 6, available for Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7, is desktop security combining network intrusion prevention, Norton's "Sonar" behavior-based protection, its "Insight" reputation analysis for malware, an antivirus engine and Web-based anti-phishing protection, among other features. The latest version of Norton 360 adds bells and whistles, such as the introduction of a Web portal so customers can access passwords they commonly use anywhere. Its "Download insight" capability, which had been in beta, will give users feedback on how safe it is to download a file.

There are now bandwidth controls to allow the user to monitor and control how mobile broadband, which is often metered by the provider, might be used, among other network services. And in another change, a so-called "self-healing" feature will now be apparent to the user as a green dialog box from Norton, which may appear, when needed, to say it has detected a unique error code in the user's machine and is applying an auto-fix correction to Norton 360 to adjust for it.

"These are probably errors unique to your environment," says Collin Davis, senior director of engineering at Norton. He says "there are a lot of idiosyncrasies that come up" that Norton will tackle with a minor custom build to Norton 360 Version 6 to correct the glitch. Norton has found this is needed because customers use such a wide range of computers and software these days that making use of the new auto-fix will quickly solve issues that distract users, plus minimize call volumes for tech support. This auto-fix is distinct from any general patch updates that might occur.

Microsoft Windows 8 is not yet out -- it's not exactly clear when it will be but a beta is expected soon with year-end general release -- but Norton is working closely with Microsoft to make sure that Norton 360 Version 6 will be able to run on Windows 8. "Microsoft has given us internal preview builds," says Davis, adding at this point Norton is highly confident that if someone bought Norton 360 Version 6 now, it would work on Windows 8 when it's available.

Norton 360 Version 6 costs $89 for up to three devices.

Norton 360 Everywhere

For the first time, Norton is coming out later this spring with what it calls Norton 360 Everywhere, which basically is a licensing plan for use of Norton 360 for up to five Windows or Apple Macintosh computers, plus any Android-based smartphones and tablets based on Android 2.1 and up. Subscribers will link to Android Marketplace to get the app for it. Norton 360 Everywhere includes 25GB of online storage. Pricing is yet not announced. Norton says this is the first time it has set up a single licensing of Norton 360 across platforms like this, and that Norton 360 Everywhere is a testimony to the impact of mobile computing today. (The licensing plan doesn't include Apple iOS devices, however, mainly because Apple's architecture is said not to lend itself to this use.)

The "Norton One" customer-service membership

Also in the works is a plan to offer what's being called the "Norton One" membership to customers who find coping with security and management issues to be a trying ordeal, and they're willing to pay $149 per year for unlimited online and phone support help from Norton for a range of its products, including Norton Internet Security for the Mac, Norton 360 and Norton Internet Security 2012.

"It's a set of support and advisory services," says Jody Gibney, group product manager at Norton, about the new membership concept that Norton is now piloting and expects to launch in earnest toward the end of March in English-speaking countries, including the U.S., U.K., Ireland, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

The idea is that a "team of experts" is going to be available on call around the clock and through online remote support to help you with any difficulties, whether it be backup of photos in Norton's cloud storage or setting up the Identity Safe feature for family members. Norton One is conceived to be wide-ranging in its scope, and foresees Norton going into a new type of intense hand-holding customer interaction that isn't done yet today in the industry.

Ellen Messmer is senior editor at Network World, an IDG publication and website, where she covers news and technology trends related to information security.

Read more about wide area network in Network World's Wide Area Network section.


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