Norton Internet Security 2005... written in 2004

Grumble 51

 When Symantec products are working they're pretty good.

Unfortunately, getting a product installed is sometimes fraught with difficulty. I've had three computers through my hands in the last three days and their owners all had problems trying to install Norton Internet Security 2005. One had just given up and returned the CD for a refund.

I suspect that Symantec have difficulty reconciling two requirements. First they want to make as much money from their investment in their old products as possible and, secondly, they want to continue to develop the product range and sell new stuff to cope with the latest threats.

Looking at the money issue. When a product is intalled it gives protection for a year. It does this by updating itself every few days or so with the latest threat definition table. Some also have the capability of updating their programs to deal with fresh ideas and, of course, to remove bugs. Do they extend the life of the old product or sell a nice shiny new one promising the earth?

After a year of free updating what happens?

You get a message to the effect that the product usefulness is exhausted and you're invited to pay lots more money to get a further years "free" updates or buy something entirely new.

The answer is clear to some people. Just re-install the original CD and you'll be set for a further years' free updates.

Symantec must have thought about this though and have made it well nigh impossible for a typical user to carry out the necessary procedure. The un-install process would seem to have been carried out successfully but try as one might one just cannot re-install the program. Not only won't the program re-install, but the original has now been removed and panic sets in with gloomy thoughts of the hard disk being wiped.

After spending many fruitless hours trying to get one's old CD to install, what next?

Pop out to the nearest computer store and buy a new version of the product? Well that's exactly what many people, in fact, decide to do. Not only the failed re-installers, but also the users with the exhausted product message. Maybe a few users will attempt a download too, as one can buy the product over the Symantec website.

What can go wrong, surely, in many cases, it's only a simple date code needing to be overwritten? Well quite a lot can go wrong. I suspect that the new product has some code for removing old versions of the product, or maybe disabling the effects of previous installations? Whatever the CD has in place for carrying out this work is entirely inadequate, at least that's what appears to me to be the case after spending hundreds of hours over the years trying to get Symantec products working in typical computers.

A fresh install when there's never been a Symnatec product installed usually works like a dream, but if a computer has the merest whiff of an older installation, things go wrong. That includes versions disabled by a virus... but that's a different story.

As an example I can give you an account of the last two computers that were on the bench during the last few days.

First a machine that had a Norton security package in place. The owner had installed this from a download and it worked fine until the years' upgrades ceased. He went into town and bought the latest version; Norton Internet Security 2005.

The CD started to install but then he got a message that he had to first log onto his old version as the main user. Unfortunately this was not an option as the process demanded a password, and he'd forgotten what it was. This turned out to be a contributary reason for buying the new product. In the event, neither could the old version be used nor the new version installed.

I suppose that if one was sufficiently versed in the intracasies of Symantec programming one could determine the password. True I could see it in a file but, unfortunately, it was encrypted. In the days of the old Beeb computer I used to write decrypting progams to crack "uncopy-able" games. This was aided by the fact that I worked for the UK's biggest manufacturer of military "crypto" products. I found that the ubiquitous "EXOR" function often worked well... but that was many moons ago.

Keeping the story brief. Symantec advised me to carry out eight procedures, each of which involved downloading short programs, fiddling with the Registry, and carrying out a number of procedural matters. In all I printed a total of eighteen pages to help with the task. In the end it worked. My prices are not high but even so it cost the customer as much again as the price of the new CD.

Customer Two next. This job involved recovering from several failed attempts of loading Internet Security 2005. The reason for the attempts was purely the fact that he'd wanted to upgrade from his "expired" AntiVirus 2003.

A simple matter I thought. Just carry out the procedure that had worked the previous day.

Unfortunately it wasn't that simple. I followed the eighteen pages of instructions prior to starting the CD, and after only a few seconds I got a very unhelpful error message from Windows Installer.

I searched the Symantec site and found a useful article on "what to do if Internet Security 2005 failed to install". This involved lots of instructions, which I followed to the letter. I got absolutely nowhere. At least I did actually get a message that I could understand during one attempt. A named file was missing. It seems that the file was required by Windows Installer. I had a second computer sitting on the bench and this was connected to a rather useful device that enables me to switch between two computers by pressing CTRL /1 or CTRL /2.

I searched the second machine for the missing file and eventually found a copy. Strangely it wasn't in the operating system but in a dump of an earlier customer's hard disk, which as luck would have it, hadn't yet been deleted. I copied the file to the first computer using my USB memory stick. A lot more convenient than using a floppy disk.

Because, several times I'd got a mystifying message telling me that, "MSI had to run from Setup", and later the message about the missing file (apparently associated with the same program) I decided to run the Windows Installer clean-up program at this point. It listed the residual failed installations, which I deleted, and then, after adhering to the remainder of the instructions, was rewarded with a clean installation of Internet Security 2005. This had involved the download of two programs from the Symantec site and a couple from the Microsoft site.

At some point during the day I'd e-mailed the ever-helpful Symantec staff and the next day I'd got a list of instructions. This involved no less than seven complex procedures requiring linking to different websites and printing the instructions and/or downloading programs and included a rather glib statement to, "remove Symantec Registry entries". I say "glib" because yesterday I'd looked at the Registry and had in fact removed about 50 Symantec entries but had given up at that point because there were lots more. Using the F3 key in search mode I counted at least another 200 entries in just one section of the Registry.

Both the computers in the examples above used Windows 98 and it may be that XP would have been easier. Who knows?

Certainly Symantec are pushing their luck. Keeping things simple is clearly not one of their aims. With the pressure to make money their products are getting to be unusable by the general public, or at least the section arriving at the door to my workshop. I know of several people that switched to other vendors, either because their Symantec product wouldn't install or, if they had got it running, the computer almost stopped working.

There is now a definite market for a fast and simple security aid. If Symantec carry on along their current tack there'll be no processing power left in some computers to carry out any tasks other than background security checks.

Each time I have to deal with a computer problem related to a Symantec product it gets more difficult. Maybe it's because I only get the hard ones?


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