The Norton Futilities

Page Last Revised: Friday, April 28, 2006 01:13 PM

We had been using and recommending Norton Utilities since the very first UNERASE program written by Peter Norton in the 1980's. Similarly, we had been using and recommending Norton Antivirus since its first release. However, there has been a very serious and continual degradation in product quality and technical support since Norton was purchased by Symantec, and especially in the past few years. Because of the myriad of difficulties my clients and I have encountered, we have stopped using the utilities, one by one, as each program began causing more problems than it solved. Sadly, by July 2000, the list of usable programs had been shortened to Disk Doctor and Speed Disk, but even those wouldn't work properly with removable media! And, given Symantec's record, these programs will be "enhanced" to the state of total non-functionality in very short order, if this has not already occured.

As a result, I now strongly recommend against anyone purchasing or attempting to use Norton Utilities, Norton AntiVirus, Norton System Works (the epitome of oxymorons), or any Symantec product. Additionally, if you are one of the victims of the more malicious nuances of these programs, and the time-wasting measures that Symantec ludicrously calls "support", I strongly recommend that you uninstall the product and demand a refund from Symantec.

Some of the many problems with the various utilities and "technical support" are documented below:

[Please note: I intend to expand this document, and to include additional supporting detail, until a lengthy history of complaints, as yet unfixed program bugs (some dating back to 1987), severe design flaws, and the worst product support imaginable, are fully documented for your attention and protection. Check back periodically to stay up-to-date.]

In general:

1) There is never any excuse for a production program to "crash" or "freeze" the system. This is the result of extremely sloppy programming, and completely inadequate pre-release testing. If such a problem is reported, a responsible software company takes steps to ascertain the cause and correct the problem immediately, not to deny its existence, blame it on other programs, system incompatibility, or the user's naivity.

2) There is no excuse for incomplete, inaccurate, or incomprehensible documentation. It should never be necessary for a reasonably literate person to have to contact "technical support" in order to install a software product or to use its basic functions. Documentation should be well-organised, indexed, cross-referenced, and kept up-to-date. It should not be scattered all over the universe, in a random order of outdated pdf, readme, and help files, not to mention poorly organised and inaccessible "knowledge bases."

Symantec, where the disingenuous hyperbole goes in even before the quality is thrown out, obviously disagrees.

3) There is also no excuse whatsoever for a product to install its files all over the user's disk space (rather than in a single identified directory), especially when there is no documentation of what was installed where, and why, and how to get rid of it. This is nothing short of criminal trespass, and would be prosecutable as such were it not for the virtually incomprehensible legal disclaimers in the ridiculously fine print "license agreement".

Can anyone imagine hiring painters to paint the den white, and subsequently discovering that they had painted it purple, failed to complete the job, spilled paint in every room in the house, left their dirty equipment hidden in closets and bureau drawers, and then tried to charge you exhorbitant rates to talk to a "support professional", who would instruct you to raze the house to the ground, rebuild it from scratch, and then (when that drastic action didn't help) inform you that your house "must be incompatible"? [Of course, if they worked for Symantec, they would also deny that you had asked for white paint, deny that they had painted the house, or left any equipment behind, and accuse you of violating their "rules" by protesting their incompetence and dishonesty. They would also deny that the sun rises in the east, or that a chair is a chair.]

If Symantec can't even get a simple installation or update program to work properly without causing severe problems, and won't acknowledge the full scope of the many problems they continue to cause, much less take the necessary steps to fix them, how can we trust them to protect us from viruses, or perform any of the other (more difficult) tasks which give them access to our vulnerable system files? 

The "Futilities"

NORTON ANTIVIRUS: A "cure" far worse than the disease! Click to read more


This program, introduced with Norton Utilities 4.0 in 1999, provides completely useless and extremely misleading "error and warning" messages. For example:

1) If you have a 56Kbs modem, and your port speed is set to 115200 (which is as it should be) or anything other than 57600, Connection Doctor will "warn" you of the "inconsistency", and Symantec's "technical support" personnel will recommend that you change your port speed to the slower (and performance degrading) figure.

2) During the test, a long-distance call to Symantec's Cupertino center is placed, which (if their modems are malfunctioning or their lines are busy) will inform you that your modem is defective! Symantec's "technical support" personnel will waste your time and insult your intelligence by insisting that the "error" message is correct.

NORTON CRASH GUARD: (or more accurately, Norton Crash Generator) Click to read more


This MS-DOS based Norton utility, which looks remarkably similar to an old version of AMIDIAGS, was introduced with Norton Utilties for DOS 6.0. It purports to provide a variety of system information and diagnostic testing facilities, but most of the information it provides is totally useless, contradictory, and poorly presented. Some of the serial and parallel port tests require the purchase (from Symantec) of specially-wired "loopback plugs" at an extortionate price, which suggests the true reason for its introduction.

Typical of the program's inaccuracy is its inablity to correctly identify the CPU! Like its predecessor program, SYSINFO, with which it obviously shares considerable code, it reports a 286 cpu as an XT, a 386 as a 286, a 486 as a 386, a Pentium as a 486, etc. Although this is obviously a simple subscriptage error, Symantec has not fixed (or even acknowledged) this ridiculous program bug in over ten years! In fact, technical support have suggested that 1) the problem does not exist ["No one else has reported it"], 2) there was no way prior to the Pentium II of accurately identifying the cpu [without explaining how other software manufacturers manage this feat of magic], and 3) since the program was written before the introduction of <insert your cpu model here>, it can't be expected to identify it properly [without explaining why an obsolete program is included with the "latest updated version" of Norton Utilities.]

Additionally, the program (and its companion SYSINFO) were rendered useless for about 40% of their users with Norton Utilities 7.0. Attempts to run the program on their systems result in a variety of crashes and system lockups --- this because the program attempts to make use of an undocumented BIOS feature, which does not (and should not) exist in any compatible BIOS designed and programmed according to published specifications.

Symantec's Response: "We are unaware of any problems with NDIAGS".


This program is one of the original Norton DOS-based utilities. In fact, the "Scan Disk" program that comes with Windows is essentially the "Norton Utilities for DOS 6.0" program, with a few "enhancements" to make it run more slowly, as an incentive to go out and purchase the Symantec product. Disk Doctor is much faster, and performs a broader range of tests than Scan Disk. It also has a number of additional options, and a more impressive graphics interface. However, some of the "repairs" it makes can create bigger problems than that which it was purportedly fixing. Additionally, it seems to have difficulty with Castlewood's Orb removable media drives, and will occasionally (and inexplicably) damage the drive or the removable disk beyond repair. And, like all the Norton Programs, it is affected by the LiveUpdate problems that have become so pernicious in the last few months (May-July 2000).

Symantec's Response: "We are unaware of any problems with Disk Doctor".


This very clever program, designed to compare two files and display the results in juxtapositioned windows, might have been be very useful --- in theory. In practice, it has far too many program bugs, for example:

1) Like all Symantec programs, it frequently and inexplicably crashes

2) If you have installed any non-Ascii fonts, it will inexplicably use them instead of the standard MS San Serif, and display illegible characters in the file name and comparison statistics boxes!

Symantec's Response: "Your system is incompatible. You can use the MS-DOS "FC" program written by Symantec (or so they claim) instead".

LIVEUPDATE: The Symantec Virus? Click to read more


This program will more often than not damage your registry in its feeble attempts to "optimize" it. It will frequently "freeze" or "crash" the system while "optimizing", and it will display "error message" windows that are almost completely obscured (and therefore undecipherable and totally useless) by the "Click OK to continue" window. Even if it worked properly, the program is completely unnecessary, as the registry can be "optimised" (i.e. defragmented, which is all "Optimization Wizard" attempts to do) by running "Scandisk /fix" after restarting the computer in MS-DOS mode, or by exporting and reimporting the entire registry with Regedit. Ironically, both of the latter procedures are routinely suggested (without knowing the reason) by Symantec "technical support" personnel to users complaining of the inability of Optimization Wizard, System Check, and Windows Doctor, to perform the (usually unnecessary) registry repairs and/or optimizations which they insist are needed, without crashing, freezing, and looping.

Symantec's Response: "We are unaware of any problems with Optimization Wizard".


This program doesn't save all the data needed to perform the task it claims to be capable of. It can create a variety of problems (undocumented and unacknowledged by Symantec, of course) if it is ever necessary to perform a "rescue operation".

For example: the Norton Rescue Disk program will reset the system date and time to what is was when the Rescue Disk set was created!  This small oversight can cause a lot of problems when your files get the wrong (created, modifed, and last-accessed) date-and-time stamps, so remember to reset the clock with the MS-DOS DATE and TIME commands immediately after the restore, and before you start Windoze!

Additionally, the procedure for "updating" the rescue disk set is unwieldy, time-consuming, and fraught with various problems.

Originally, the Rescue Disk consisted of a single bootable floppy containing the programs and files needed to fix various system problems. The Utilities rescue disk was primarily designed to fix hard disk problems, whereas the separate rescue disk created by NAV was designed to recover from a virus attack. One created a rescue disk when the software was installed, and placed it in a safe place until needed. However, now it is necessary to update the rescue disk set frequently, perhaps daily, as various "essential" system files change. Eventually the Utilities rescue "disk" grew to three 1.44MB floppies, and the NAV rescue "disk" grew to five. Although there was considerable duplication of files, the two sets (of 8 disks) were not integrated until and unless one purchased System Works 2000.

Although the LiveUpdate program has replaced both the Norton Utilities and NAV Rescue program with a new version a number of times this past year, the integration issue has not been addressed! Worse yet, when the Rescue program was updated, there was no notice provided, despite the fact that the new program(s) were unable to use the older format (and now worthless) rescue disk set. So, unless the poor user just happened to recreate the (8-disk) rescue disk set after the update, he would be up the proverbial creek without paddle should he ever need to perform a rescue operation.

As Abba Eben remarked (on another issue), "What good is an umbrella that doesn't open when it rains?"

I recommend that, instead of using Norton Rescue, you back up your system daily, and use one of the many excellent shareware and freeware programs to backup and restore the CMOS and partitioning information, properly, if necessary.

Symantec's Response: "We are unaware of any problems with Rescue Disk".


This program is one of the original Norton DOS-based utilities. In fact, the "Disk Defragmenter" program that comes with Windows is essentially the "Norton Utilities for DOS 6.0" program, with a few "enhancements" to make it run more slowly, as an incentive to go out and purchase the Symantec product. . Speed Disk is much faster (which makes one wonder if it is in fact doing anything but displaying impressive graphics), and purports to perform a broader range of "optimizations" than Disk Defragmenter. It also has a number of additional options, and a more impressive graphics interface. It seems to have great difficulty with Orb removable drives, and will occasionally (and inexplicably) damage the drive or the removable disk beyond repair. And, like all the Norton Programs, it is affected by the LiveUpdate problems that have become so pernicious in the last few months (May-July 2000).

Symantec's Response: "We are unaware of any problems with Speed Disk".

NORTON SYSTEM CHECK (presumably they mean "check" as in "stem the operation of"):

This progam has the same flaws as Windows Doctor, which it invokes to perform many of its tests. It doesn't function correctly with removable drives, and frequently damages them.

Some of the horrors that users have experienced, as well as Symantec's completely unhelpful responses may be viewed at Symantec's "Technical Support" website --- at least until Symantec deletes the messages (or changes the URL), and reverts to their standard response.

Symantec's Response: "We are unaware of any problems with System Check".


This program sits on the desktop, and runs in the background. It displays various (user selectable) sensors of doubtful value, and performs various diagnostics by launching other Norton applications on a periodic basis. Most of the sensors take up vast amounts of memory and other system resources, provide inaccurate or misleading information and "warnings", and interfere with the operation of other programs, causing crashes and system freezes. The diagnostic programs are launched at the most inconvenient times (e.g. in the middle of a backup) and inevitably create conflicts with any running applications. System Doctor has also been adversely affected by the LiveUpdate problem that began in April or May of 2000, and has yet to be solved, or even properly acknowledged by Symantec's "technical support" personnel.

Symantec's Response: "We are unaware of any problems with System Doctor".


This is a totally useless (and potentially dangerous) waste of time and money. If Symantec can't even update their own product line without causing a myriad of problems, how can they be trusted to automatically update "all your software"?


This program (which is also invoked by Norton System Check) indicates a variety of non-existant problems. It frequently locks up the system and/or crashes and/or loops when trying to effect repairs. Due to a problem with LiveUpdate, it frequently "detects" a (non-existent) registry corruption, and invokes Optimization Wizard to correct the problem. This results in a "freeze", "crash", or loop upon reboot, resulting in multiple instances of System Check attempting to run simultaneously, and wreaking havoc with essential system files.

Symantec's Response: "We are unaware of any problems with Windows Doctor".


A cruel joke, and an oxymoronic misnomer. Interference would be a more accurate description.

Staffed by personnel who lack familiarity with the product and basic computer skills. The standard is to: 1) deny that anyone else has reported the problem, 2) suggest time-consuming and useless "solutions" until the 30-day "satisfaction guaranteed" period has expired, and then 3) inform the user that their system is "uncompatible".

Their automated answers rarely have anything to do with the reported problem.  They are generated by a Symantec computer program which simply lists any "solution" for which any word in its description matches any  word in the user's posts.  This is a new feature of their support site, but it typifies the type of programming, testing, and logic employed in their entire product line --- and their theory of what constitutes "technical support".

Of course, their non-automated answers rarely have anything to do with the reported problem, either!  This is because their support staff rarely read the entire message.  Like the "automated answer" program, they simply look up "solutions" in a database, based on keywords found in the user's message.  Then, when the user responds, "Thank you for your advice, but it has nothing to do with the stated problem", they become surly, defensive, and abusive.

Over the long 2000 July 4th weekend, Symantec was closed Friday-Tuesday, after having released the Symantec Virus on it's unsuspecting customers. There was no one to shut down Liveupdate when the problem was reported, or to help customers restore their Symantec-damaged systems. And there was also no sign of Symantec being open on Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday, as they were apparently hiding from the lynch mob! They did, however, manage to find time to delete all the forum messages from irate customers which Symantec felt were derogatory (i.e. truthful).


Click here to read the observations and comments of some of Symantec's "15 million satisfied customers":

 Norton Anti-Virus

Norton Futilities

Live Update



Chateau Mezcal

Caveat Emptor