Product activation glitch hits Symantec

A few of the 1.2 million customers that have installed the software company's latest Norton security package complain that product activation is failing.

Robert Lemos
Robert Lemos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Robert Lemos
covers viruses, worms and other security threats.
3 min read
Some of the 1.2 million customers that have installed software maker Symantec's latest Norton PC security package have been unable to use the software because of new antipiracy technology, the company confirmed Thursday.

A few consumers have complained to Symantec that the U.S. and British versions of a package that includes Norton Antivirus 2004, Norton Internet Security 2004, Norton Antispam 2004 and Norton SystemWorks 2004 mistakenly asks for a product activation code every time a PC is rebooted. Eventually, the software informs the consumers that they have reached the activation limit and the software will cease to function.

"As of last night, our engineers were able to reproduce the problem on one type of machine," said Del Smith, senior product manager for Symantec. "This really has been a top priority for our product activation development team."

Smith said the problem has not been easy to locate and asked the consumers to go to the company's site and run the Symantec Automated Support Assistant to submit data on their particular PC. He also recommended that customers who encounter the problem not restart their computers.

"For customers that have hit the limit, they should contact a support representative," Smith said. A toll-free number should be displayed when a customer reaches the product activation limit, he added.

Symantec is the latest software maker to experience problems with product activation, a controversial antipiracy technique in which a software maker ties a copy of a program to a specific PC. Symantec estimates that at least 3.6 million bogus copies of its programs are sold annually, causing headaches both for the company and for unsuspecting buyers, who find out too late that the software isn't doing its job.

Microsoft was the first major software maker to broadly use product activation, introducing it in the Windows XP operating system and deflecting concerns that the technology would balk at simple changes in a PC's hardware.

Financial software and services company Intuit encountered criticism when it introduced product activation to its most recent version of its TurboTax product for tax preparation. Customers complained the technology made the software difficult to install and also made changes to their PC hard drive that were difficult to undo. In an open letter to customers that ran on Oct. 8 in several major publications, the software maker apologized for the myriad problems with product activation and reiterated promises to leave the technology out of future TurboTax products.

Intuit's antipiracy technology was based on software from Macrovision, which is working to make the technique more palatable to consumers.

Symantec's software activation is not based on Macrovision technology, Smith said, adding that the company had extensively tested it over the past year without any problems. Symantec's system generates a unique alphanumeric code to identify a PC configuration and ties it to the product key for a particular piece of software. It stores license information on the PC's hard drive and allows for up to five activations for the same product key.

"We thoroughly tested the technology," Smith said. "We ran extensive tests worldwide. You had well over 250,000 customers complete activation, and we didn't have any complaints about this."

Smith said the company hasn't determined how effective product activation has been in deterring piracy but said Symantec was studying the issue.