The Good and Bad

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2005-10-18 Print this article Print

of Subscriptions"> Of course there are things that are good for the user about the subscription model. As Symantec pointed out to me, many users are confused about the fact that they pay for the product once, then after a year they have to pay once again for something not exactly the same. Instead, with 2006, they are told from the beginning that they are subscribing to all updates, including new features. Maybe its clearer, its hard to say.

But it does clarify another problem Symantec has with respect to their copy protection. If the real value is in the subscription and not the initial software—and even the new software is useless if you cant update it—then theres no point in protecting the software through copy protection. They should give their software away and charge whatever they want for their subscriptions. Symantec says that the copy of the new software comes with an annual subscription and that the copy protection therefore protects that, but this just tells me they have an implementation problem.

Incidentally, I was curious about how these program updates would be delivered. Right now Symantec has three different mechanisms: Automatic Updates, which happen without user action, deliver only signature updates. Manually running the LiveUpdate program delivers signatures and some program updates, such as bug fixes. And there have been some cases where Symantec has delivered updates as downloaded executables. I asked Symantec how they would deliver new updates including new features, and they got vague on me. Its not clear. If its through manual downloads and the equivalent of an upgrade process then most users wont do it, although they will have access to it.

Its especially galling to see Symantec increase prices for their signatures when they are regularly one of the slowest companies to update those signatures in response to threats. Symantec updates regularly once a week and only goes out of cycle with updates when a category 3 or higher threat comes along. In the last year there have been only a handful of 3+ threats. The signature update process has therefore become well-oiled and as regular as grandma when she takes her Metamucil.

Microsoft plans to bake Windows AntiSpyware technology into its next operating system, Vista. Click here to read more. In fact, the 2006 versions address this somewhat. If you are running the 2006 or future versions you will get daily updates. If youre running 2005 or earlier versions, youre still on the old schedule.

For this they deserve a raise? Other companies release at least once a day, many of them hourly, such as BitDefender and Kaspersky. This usually matters little, but if youre one of the unfortunate few to get one of the very common new threats at level 2 or 1 there could be 6 more days before Norton ponies up with protection for it. And for keeping you at the old, embarrassingly slow schedule, they do you the favor of charging you almost as much as they do for a full new copy.

Maybe anti-virus vendors figure that their time is limited and that they better suck whatever money they can from customers before something supplants them. Weve been looking at products like Panda TruPrevent that dont rely on signatures for detection; theyre not perfect, but theyre getting a lot better. One day if they get good enough the great Norton Cash Cow will moo its last.

Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest security news, reviews and analysis. And for insights on security coverage around the Web, take a look at Security Center Editor Larry Seltzers Weblog. More from Larry Seltzer

Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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