In this space you will find articles about photography, places to photograph, travel, and photo-related Web sites (including this one), computers and software, and links. New articles will appear on an irregular basis. Previous articles are archived. The information presented here is based on my own experiences in the areas listed above. I will avoid how-to articles, as I'm in no position to offer advice or tutorials. Instead, when I find an interesting place to photograph, had a fun or unusual experience making pictures somewhere, or simply have a good story to tell related to making, preparing, or displaying photographs, you'll find it here.
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Jay L. Cross
How Symantec Lost a Customer
"All I wanna do is...."
I've worked, and played, with computers for a long time. I make my living with and because of them. I've worked as a programmer, system architect, consultant, manufacturing engineer (electronics), software tester, and teacher. I've seen all kinds of software. Some of it's good; most of it isn't. Somehow the worst packages become industry standards. Microsoft Office is near the top of my list -- it makes doing complex things very easy. It also makes doing the simplest things nearly impossible. But I digress....
This article is about another standard -- a product you probably have installed on the machine on which you're reading this article -- Symantec's Norton Antivirus (NAV).
Over the years I've used several products from Symantec. Now that I think about it, all were acquired by Symantec; the company is not the original developer of any of them. These include NAV, of course, and also PCAnywhere, Ghost, and more recently, V2i Protector, recently acquired from PowerQuest.
With the exception of PCAnywhere, which I used only briefly and some years ago, I have had experiences with each of these products that can only be called "terrible" in polite company. The experience of trying to get help from Symantec also has been, to use my favorite oxymoron, pretty ugly. I have several friends, some quite computer savvy, who have had bad experiences with Symantec's Norton Internet Security suite of products. I have not personally used this, but I've still experienced problems as a result of its poor design. More on that later.
NAV in the Good Old Days
My first Windows PC included NAV version 4. It was pre-installed by whoever built desktop computers for IBM back in the late 1990s. (Prior to that time I was an Apple Macintosh user and consultant, and used excellent freeware virus protection. Things were different then.) On that first Windows PC, NAV 4 was more-or-less invisible. One could visit Symantec's Web site and download virus definition updates as needed or desired. Compared to today's version, 4 seemed svelte, fast, and competent.
In 2002 I bought a new Windows XP machine. My first two software purchases were NAV 2002 and PowerQuest's Drive Image (version 5, I think). By 2002 it was unthinkable to have a PC with Internet connectivity and NOT have an antivirus package in place. NAV 2002 seemed to be a resource hog, slowing the PC's boot time considerably. Otherwise it wasn't bad. It included LiveUpdate, which handily downloaded both virus definitions and program updates on a regular basis. However, this was for a one-year subscription period. A year after installation LiveUpdate stopped working. It was, though, still possible to go to Symantec's site and download virus definition files as desired. This generally was a two to four megabyte file which included the "Intelligent Updater". The downloaded file was a .exe file which, when run, performed the update quickly and with no hassle. Apparently one could do this forever, without cost. After all, the product had been paid for, and without regular updates, would quickly become useless. I felt this was perfectly fair.
I discovered, accidentally, that if NAV 2002 was uninstalled and reinstalled, the LiveUpdate subscription began anew and was functional for another year. Feature, or bug? I suppose that depends on your point of view. Surely a bug from the perspective of Symantec's Marketing and Sales folk. One they eventually fixed, as you'll see.
NAV in More Recent Times
Being a frugal sort, and also not being so fond, anymore, of playing with computers rather than getting real work done, I tend to purchase upgrades with every other release. I'd heard pretty bad things about the product when NAV 2003 was released, and smart people recommended just continuing with NAV 2002. Since I'd planned to do that anyway, I never knew NAV 2003. When LiveUpdate in the 2002 version eventually expired again, I maintained the virus definitions manually and all was well. When NAV 2004 was released I decided it was time to upgrade. I did this via the Web and downloaded the new version.
Installation proceeded normally and I had no trouble with the new version. Its impact on PC performance was clearly more significant than 2002. My fast Pentium 4 system didn't seem so fast anymore. Full system scans seemed to take forever, but to be fair, the PC now had multiple hard drives, several partitions, and tens of thousands of files. A weekly scan during periods when the PC was otherwise not in use was painless.
Fast forward a year. LiveUpdate was about to expire. Shortly after each boot-up, a warning message appeared. It offered to take my money and renew, or remind me again in either one or 15 days (my choice). OK, I'm busy now, so tell me again in 15 days. Click OK and the message goes away. For perhaps two minutes. Then it's back, so I repeat the go-away-for-15-days process. Then I launch MS Word or Outlook, and the message appears again. Someone at Symantec should check his or her watch. Apparently the days there seem like minutes. After three attempts the message stays out of my hair. Until the next day when I boot the machine, and the process begins again. And there's no way to make it stop! Eventually LiveUpdate expired. I continued to get this warning every day, several times a day.
Knowing I should keep the virus definitions up to date, I visit Symantec's site and download the latest Intelligent Updater. I run the .exe, and it fails, displaying a message telling me I can't use the update and should renew LiveUpdate. And of course offering to take my money and make it so.
Now I'm angry. I paid for the product, which after one year becomes less useful. The boot time for my PC is now much longer, as if NAV is trying to figure out what to do in its current state. Seemingly unrelated to this, I find my wife's Windows 2000 PC is no longer able to connect to network shares -- shared drives or folders on our network. It had worked perfectly for a long time, and suddenly didn't anymore. The error message complained there was not enough memory to complete the operation (without specifying WHAT operation) and recommended closing applications. None was open, of course. Typical of Windows to do something stupid and make the user feel like an idiot for it. I should note here that the Win2000 machine had NAV 2002 installed.
The Last Straw(s)
While suffering with the NAV problems on my PC, I battled this "not enough memory" problem on the other machine off-and-on for days. Help finally came from the Web, as it so often does. The culprit was, you guessed it, NAV! As it turns out, a bug in NAV sets -- perhaps "upsets" is the correct word -- a setting in Windows registry that causes file sharing to fail. It was necessary to fix this setting on all our machines -- two desktops and a laptop at the time. Since all had been fine for a long time, it seems obvious that the expiration of LiveUpdate was somehow at fault. I can't prove that, but I will always believe it. So where am I? NAV can't be updated on my PC, making it less than useful. I can't get virus definition updates without paying money to a company I'm really coming to dislike. NAV broke file sharing and required a LOT of fooling around to fix. As they shout on those late-night TV commercials, "But wait -- there's more!"
In my work we once used a product called Ghost to make images of hard drives. With these images the systems could be restored to known states after running test cases on other software. Several years ago Symantec bought Ghost from its developer. I had such severe problems with Ghost 2003, causing hours of frustration and lost productivity, that I barred the application from our office. Their support was awful, and they wanted to charge me for the support call I made within hours after opening the new product. We did a huge amount of research and eventually decided to replace Ghost with a product from PowerQuest called V2i Protector. This was pretty good stuff and I bought a five-user license for the office. A month later we added an additional flight of test machines and I tried to buy another five-user license. That's when I learned Symantec had bought PowerQuest. They refused to sell me the additional licenses because moving to 10 users put us into a of category of customers from which they expected much more money. I refused, explaining if they made this hard for me, I knew just what to do: ignore the license agreement, buy NO additional licenses, and install what I'd already purchased on ALL the machines. Perhaps because of this threat, they sold me five additional licenses and something called a Gold Maintenance Agreement. The value of this $500 piece of paper was exactly zero. Symantec ignored every request for support, never provided promised updates, and generally treated me badly. So Symantec lost two customers; my work office as a corporate customer, and me as a SOHO user.
I'm running out of space here, so I won't go into detail about the problems Norton Internet Security has caused for people I know and whose judgment I respect. I don't (and won't) use this or any other Symantec product, but I am in the middle of recoding nearly every page on this site (it's hundreds) to work around Symantec's idiotic design decisions in that product. Here's a good explanation and how to fix it if it affects your Web browsing.
"All I Wanna Do Is..."
I don't ask for much. All I want is reasonable and prudent virus protection for my PCs and network. I want a firewall that's easy to manage, stays out of my way, and doesn't slow the machines to a crawl. (I should note I eventually solved this problem with a real hardware firewall. No Norton Internet Security in this house!) I want a backup/drive imaging solution that works across my network, and it would be fine if it did NOT require a 60+ megabyte install of Microsoft's Dot-Net framework as Symantec's current products do. I now have all of these things in a Symantec-free environment. It will stay that way as long as possible, probably until Symantec buys out the last of its competition and eliminates our choices.
A suggestion: Please don't buy products from these guys. As is often the case with software, especially Windows software, your results may be different from mine. You may have great luck with Symantec's products. But you will NEVER have good luck with their support -- that's a people and corporate culture issue, not a technical one. Symantec's made that decision, and I've made mine. I hope you'll do the same.
28 April 2005
Links to Better Products and the Not Enough Memory Problem Fix
AVG Anti-Virus (the free version is pretty good)