eBay Purchase Price: $19.95 AUD
Country of Origin: Australia
Norton Commander and Norton Navigator have some things in common. Both coincidentally were a motorcycle in the later half of the 20th century, and both were file management software applications acquired by Symantec that are now defunct. Out of the two, it would be fair to say Norton Commander was more commercially successful and competed head-to-head with XTree Gold.
XTree Gold was brilliant in the DOS era, though as with other applications failed to keep momentum transitioning across to Windows. This led to an acquisition by Central Point Software, who in turn were acquired by Symantec. Ultimately Norton Navigator loosely was a replacement for Norton Desktop and XTree Gold aimed at Windows 95.
A faded mark on the copy purchased indicated a retail price of $169 AUD ($99-130 US depending on source). Personally I felt the price was set too high and may have been more successful for around $80 instead. With Windows 95, many felt adequate managing files with Windows Explorer despite offering only the bare minimum. The system requirements also mentioned that it won’t run under Windows 3.x and there was no mention of Windows NT whatsoever limiting its target audience.
From a hardware perspective, requirements were no different to Windows 95 itself. A 386 DX with 4 MB RAM although a 486 DX with 8 MB RAM was more suitable. Installation is brief with only three floppy disks provided. Although missing, the back of the retail box suggests an enclosed coupon was provided on a “multimedia version” of Norton Navigator. Really this appeared to comprise of adding a few tutorials onto CD-ROM covering topics such as the Windows file system and memory management.
I attempted with the later Windows 95 OSR 2.5 release. Clearly it became obvious that it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Executing SETUP.EXE off the first floppy disk, Windows immediately warns that it may not run correctly and obtain a newer version. It was unexpected, and raised suspicion that Navigator was only intended for the original RTM Windows 95 release. At the conclusion of installation, a similar warning appeared that there would be incompatibilities with Internet Explorer 4.0, largely thanks to the introduction of changes to the Windows 95 GUI.
With Navigator installed, changes to the Windows desktop are immediate. Along the taskbar, an additional desktop workspace is provided. The taskbar to the right is meant to have buttons that function much like the QuickLaunch buttons Internet Explorer 4.0 introduced. Except with the later Windows 95 version, the clock needed to be removed in order to see them, or by increasing the width of the taskbar.
Within the collection of utilities included with Navigator, the Norton File Manager was to me the most useful overall and immediately preferred over Windows Explorer. Built from the ground up with the Windows 95 interface in mind and not just a 32-bit port of a Windows 3.1 application, built-in tools such as creating and extracting ZIP files, FTP support, and synchronisation of directories in different locations were nice additions.
One drawback though was despite functioning okay on a FAT32 formatted hard disk, Norton File Manager was designed to simply expect a FAT16 drive that were limited to 2 GB in capacity. Whilst this didn’t affect stability of the program or throw out weird error messages, as shown below it merely reported both total and free disk space as 1.99 GB. A minor update was available that included a few extras such as FAT32 and DMF floppy disk support. Unfortunately tracking down the update file (1-TO-95B.EXE) was a fruitless exercise with the only links found pointing towards Symantec’s decommissioned FTP server.
As shown below from the Norton Navigator Control Center, several Windows enhancements were provided akin to Microsoft’s own PowerToys. Norton QuickMenus allowed customisation of the Start menu, offering cascade menus for the Run, Documents, and Control Panel commands. Once again these didn’t work as intended on the Windows 95 version I was using.
The Norton LFN Enabler was also of interest to me. Windows 95 introduced long file names, a feature Macintosh users claimed superiority over for a number of years already. Previously due to DOS limitations, the maximum character length was eight. At the time it was reasonably common for a Windows 95 PC to have 16-bit Windows 3.1 applications installed that couldn’t take advantage of this enhancement. Here Norton rectified this limitation with such applications provided they were developed using standard Microsoft-style dialog boxes.
Overall Norton Navigator was a nice-to-have not a got-to-have product, now hardly remembered like a one hit wonder. Symantec were more motivated to maintain their Norton Utilities and Anti-Virus product lines instead.