Software maker Symantec, whose products aim to prevent and solve PC problems, is practicing damage control of a different kind this week.
Irritated customers are complaining about hassles upgrading from Norton Anti-Virus Deluxe 4.0 and about a new pricing scheme for anti-virus updates.
The company's customer support bulletin boards have been filled this week with angry queries from customers who are having problems downloading the free upgrade from Norton Anti-Virus Deluxe 4.0 to Norton Anti-Virus 5.0.
Before proceeding with the download and installing the upgrade, Symantec first ascertains that the user is in fact a 4.0 customer. It does this by verifying the presence of certain files on the user's system.
However, the Norton Anti-Virus Live Update site contained a patch for one week this past June that did not include those necessary identifying files, and those customers are now unable to install the upgrade because the Symantec Web site does not identify them as 4.0 users.
"We just found out about this particular scenario," said Marian Merritt, a senior product manager for Norton Anti-Virus. "That download file will only install if a particular file is on your system. There was a one week window when our Live Update patch lacked that file."
Norton has already updated the upgrade file, Merritt said, and will be sending out an email to Norton customers today or tomorrow. It is difficult to estimate the number of affected customers, she said, because Symantec does not keep track of how many customers visited the Live Update site during that period.
Norton customers are also complaining about a change in the company's pricing of AntiVirus updates. Previously, those updates were available free of charge, but Symantec had to change that policy because of accounting problems.
"I can't upgrade from NAV 4.0 Deluxe to NAV 5.0, which Symantec promised I could when I bought the product originally," complained one Norton customer to a Symantec customer service representative on the company's bulletin board. "And even if I eventually by some miracle do get to upgrade, Symantec says that by doing this I am only entitled to one year of free updates. That's called being unethical."
"Some things happened in our business environment that made (our policy) have to change," Merritt said. "We're governed by an accounting standards bureau, and they decided that virus (updates) were probably more valuable than the virus software itself."
Currently, customers who purchased Norton products before April 6, 1998, can still access free anti-virus updates. Anyone who purchased Norton software after that date will get one year of free updates, with annual updates available as an option for $3.95 per year.
But there's a catch: Anyone who upgrades to Norton AntiVirus 5.0, even those who upgrade for free, are considered to be purchasing a new product, and thus are no longer eligible for unlimited free updates, Merritt said.
"We put a warning up there: You will now have new software," she added.
"We were facing a big financial decision: We tried to find a price point that would be small enough where customers would go for it, and large enough that the auditor would go for it," Merritt said. "Anything software purchased after April 6, the box had a special sticker on it, because we did know that it was new."