Symantec Corp. has repackaged the same tools in its Norton utility suite so many times that it reminds me of a holiday gift that gets passed around again and again.

But I must admit after testing SystemWorks 2000 that I found new things inside the wrapping.

Symantec seems to have built the new suite from the ground up. For one thing, you can now pick and choose what components you want to install. It's good to get an entire suite of programs in one box, but most users won't need all of them.

Despite Symantec's fixes, I have had long-standing problems with CrashGuard, which sometimes halts a system during valid operations in the name of crash protection. Now I don't even have to install it anymore.

The five main pieces are an anti-virus tool, a utility, a disk-management tool, the aforementioned CrashGuard and an update utility to keep system drivers current.

In the past, users had to be somewhat technically proficient to make use of the utilities. The biggest change in SystemWorks 2000 is a simplified interface. It's so easy to use, there is no real learning curve at all. And it keeps you from doing anything harmful. No more worry about accidentally erasing critical files while trying to eke out a bit more speed.

The most valuable tool, the CleanSweep utility, keeps hard-drive clutter to a minimum. It works best when installed in advance of any memory-eating applications.

Then it can track where each little DLL file goes and remove all the fragments when you decide to get rid of the program.

This is a big help for huge programs. The little desktop icon that points to a modern piece of software is not even the tip of the iceberg--it's more like a snowman sitting on the tip of the iceberg.

CleanSweep dives below the surface to clear out useless clutter. CleanSweep will also clean up the mucky Microsoft Windows registry.

When Windows uninstalls programs, phantom entries often remain in the registry, sucking up memory and slowing down your system.

But CleanSweep won't even let you click on the critical entries, so there is no danger of erasing something essential.

A close second in usefulness is the Web Services component. It collects configuration information about your software and hardware and compares it against an online database of current drivers, patches and fixes. If anything is out of date, Web Services will offer to download and install the newest version.

Some users are concerned about revealing their system information, but I consider it at least as secure as giving a credit card to a waiter.

You only get Web Services for six months, then you pay about $30 to keep it going for another year. I don't like this way of doing business. After paying for the suite I should be able to use it forever, especially considering there are totally free services on the Web that do the same thing.

The AntiVirus component is set up the same way as Web Services, but you get new virus definition profiles for a year before Symantec asks for more money.

I suspect CrashGuard is the same program Quarterdeck Corp. developed before Symantec bought it. CrashGuard still halts my test system too often for no good reason, although I have yet to crash without the utility's jumping in and attempting to avoid disaster.

Overall, Norton Utilities 2000 is basically the same tool set with a bit more emphasis on detecting system conflicts before they turn into big trouble.

You now can back up critical files to a Jaz or Zip removable disk from Iomega Corp., saving even more hard-drive space. And the interface is much easier for computer neophytes.

NORTON SYSTEMWORKS

Detects and repairs system damage, helps maintain overall performance

Symantec Corp.

Cupertino, Calif.

Price: $59

Grade: B

Phone number: 1-800-441-7234

Web address: www.symantec.com

PROS:

+ CleanSweep unclutters hard drives

+ New, simpler interface

CONS:

- Only six months of free support for Web Services

- Only one year of free support for AntiVirus

Real-life requirements:

Windows 95/98 or NT, 32MB of RAM, 116MB free storage, CD-ROM drive

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