Through its "LiveUpdate" feature, Symantec's Norton Antivirus program can update its list of viruses to scan, as well as the scanning application itself. The most recent update from June 30, however, caused crashes on some computers, said Patrick Martin, product manager for Symantec's Antivirus Research Center.
The problem was complicated by the fact that it was not the first time a new update caused problems. A problem in June left some Windows 2000 computers unresponsive and in need of a reboot. For a time, Symantec thought some complaints were new cases of the earlier problem, Martin said.
"Early on, we were thinking it was the same thing. Once we got clear reports, we were able to get technical information from users, (and) we were able to jump on top of it," Martin said. "In the meantime, we took the latest update offline."
The problem struck people using Windows 2000, the Promise ATA Ultra66 disk controller card and the Windows NTFS file system, Martin said. "There really aren't a lot of people with these configurations," he added.
Tracking down problems is tricky because of the profusion of different combinations of hardware and software and the difficulty of obtaining that information from customers. "Sometimes it may just take us longer to piece the right things together," Martin said.
But the problems and Symantec's responsiveness left some people in a less than charitable mood.
"It has taken over two days to get my desktop back to basic functioning," said Ted Wall, a computer veteran afflicted by the problem, whose livelihood is made supporting small-business customers. "Norton has not built any credibility in this last fiasco."
Wall said Norton should have dealt with the problem earlier, even accounting for the Independence Day holiday.
Another sufferer was Brian Fumo. "The June 30 LiveUpdate that caused the problem was made available on July 1. It's now July 6, and no new LiveUpdate has been made available," Fumo said in an email yesterday. "I spent a part of the weekend devoted to this" and decided to disable some antivirus features as a result, he said.
In a July 5 posting to Symantec's service and support bulletin, one user said he had to go through a laborious process to get his system to uninstall the antivirus software to get his four machines back to working order.
"We were able to reproduce this last night in concert with our Tokyo office," Martin said today. "At this point, we're going to be getting down into the bowels of the code. We're pretty confident in the next few hours we'll know what it is."