How Norton SystemWorks
Software Crashed My Gateway Computer 

by Barbara Brabec

2011 UPDATE: Norton SystemWorks has been discontinued, and this article, written in 2000, is certainly outdated now. But I decided to leave it on the site for historical purposes since response to this article was nothing short of overwhelming, as the reader mail it generated indicates. If you're a "computer historian," or if you still happen to use a Gateway computer or have Norton SystemWorks installed on an older machine, this article may be of interest.  At the very least, this article in an education in the "service" you'll get from Norton if you ever decide to use its products. 


Although my Gateway computer (purchased in March, 2000) came with Norton Antivirus software installed, I ordered Norton's SystemWorks software thinking I needed more than just Norton's antivirus protection to keep my computer in good working order. So one evening I decided to let Norton defrag my computer since it hadn't been done in the six months since I'd bought the computer. When that was done, Norton asked, "You have some unnecessary files in your Registry. Would you like to have them fixed?"

Who was I to know about such things at that point? I said sure. Next morning when I fired up the computer, I found that the defrag Norton had done had actually made the defragmentation worse, and now I was getting error messages about a problem with the Registry files. Chris Maher (my tech-support fellow) helped me replace the Registry files with one of the automatic backup files on the disk, but that didn't solve the problem. Then I began to get error messages when the computer tried to do a scandisk operation. Ultimately, I got "cannot write to drive C."

Frantic by now, I began to do backups of everything I could figure out how to save, while at the same time calling all my tech support to see what my options were. I was stunned when a Gateway technician told me I never should have installed Norton SystemWorks in the first place.

"We know there is a problem when this software is used on one of our computers and we're trying to do something about it," he said, adding, "What Norton does is destroy all the files in the Registry that relate to our Go-Back software." (This software reportedly lets one restore a computer system to a specific hour in the past when everything was working okay. A great way to kill a virus problem, for example, or recover from a crash. Of course, I was counting on this program to save the day, and now it was gone.)

Norton's "Service"

In trying to get help from Norton, I learned this company does not offer any free support to its customers (unless you want to post a public message on its web site and then wait for someone to respond). My only option was to use one of their pay-per-incident lines. After taking my credit card information and charging me $29.95, they said to hold for the next technician. And then I waited and waited and waited . . . . for one hour and 35 minutes before anyone came back on the line. I was fit to be tied!

"You call this service?" I moaned. But of course the poor technician wasn't to blame here and he patiently aided me in the un-installation process and we revisited the Registry files to make sure all traces of this software was out of my system.

That done, I then called Gateway again, and the tech said, "Well, you're going to have to reformat the drive, of course."

Pause. "You know why I bought a Gateway computer in the first place?" I said. "So I wouldn't have to do all the setup and installation of my computer in the first place!"

At that point, I couldn't make up my mind who I was maddest at; Gateway, for not telling their customers not to install Norton System Works ("The Norton Anti Virus program we install is specially designed to work with Gateway computers," I was told); or Norton, for not including a warning in their software that the changes it makes to the Registry could possibly destroy other backup or restore programs already on the computer. 

Because I had the Norton software for a couple of months before I found time to install it, my guarantee has expired by the time I did install it, so I was also out the cost of this software program on top of the service fee. (Norton had no sympathy for the trouble they caused by not mentioning their program's incompatibility with Gateway Go-Back systems.)

Still a Windows novice at the time of this crash, it took me nearly a month to get everything back up and working the way it was before the crash. Since I now feel like I could write a book on how to prepare for, and survive, a total crash of one's system, the next crash should be easier to recover from. I just hope the information in this article helps some of my readers avoid the problem I encountered with this particular software program when used with a Gateway computer. (See my 2011 article, "How to Prepare for and Recover from a Computer Crash."

TIP: If you haven't done this yet, I suggest you go into all your menus and write down all the special settings you've made so you'll be able to quickly reinstate those settings in the event of a system crash. What good does it do to tweak your system if you don't keep a record of what you've done in case you have to do it again sometime? In particular, write down all your e-mail server connection settings. I can't tell you how many times I had to go into Outlook and reset these settings because several software programs changed these settings in their installation or configuration process, making it impossible for me to connect to Microsoft. I saved myself several calls to tech support because I had those settings written down. (Norton, in particular, is famous for doing this.)

A FINAL NOTE: Do not try to uninstall Norton SystemWorks using your Add/Remove programs feature because this software plants files in the registry that won't be removed in this procedure. There used to be uninstall instructions on Symantec's Web site but I don't see them now. Good luck!

Reader Mail in Response to this Article


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