Friday, October 19, 2007

Out with Norton Antivirus.

Time for another example of "It takes ten atta-boys to get rid of one awww-sh*t," for us product types...

Usability is something that I take to heart and for a very long time, Norton related products generally got a nod from me. I especially recommended Norton security products (anti-virus, personal firewall, etc.) to friends and family since it did a good job with protecting their machines while being easy to use. The latter was especially crucial for family that would otherwise call me for help.

Over the last few years I've progressively seen the Norton family of security products get bulkier, slower, and increasingly tedious to use. Most recently I purchased and installed Norton Internet Security 2006 and used it for 10 months. This took the cake for miserable.

The most visible problem was performance. It was excruciatingly slow and made boot/wakeup times downright pathetic. My Pentium III-1Ghz which also runs Windows XP-SP2 was more responsive than my Centrino-Duo-2Ghz laptop! My grumble slowly turned into a roar - unless the new version that I planned to test drive was significantly better, it was the end of the road for Norton. But even with performance being sluggish for me, I hadn't completely changed my mind about my family yet. Did they feel the same pain?

Turns out they did. Both my sister and my dad who have relatively modern machines with ample memory and similar Windows XP configurations complained about the performance of their machines. I initially wrote it off as yet another application they installed, but after checking their machines over I realized that they were feeling the same pain around Norton that I was. Slow boot times and slow scan times topped the list. My dad felt the Outlook-integration pain that I felt as well. Basically, any application that had Norton integrated with it would slow to a crawl when trying to startup.

But isn't performance orthogonal to ease of use? No. It isn't. Work with anyone dealing with a slow application (whatever platform it happens to be) and the frustration they feel with a slow application is very similar to that of the frustration with a difficult to use application. The only way to make the situation worse is to make the application unreliable.

Norton, thankfully, wasn't unreliable. With exception of a bad drivers or bad hardware, I haven't had a crashing problem with Windows for years. (Literally, since I started using Windows 2000.) There are times when Windows get cranky, but no lost data unless the error was self inflicted.

As for the user interface itself, I qualified it as humdrum. If you left the default settings on, you were fine. If you needed to alter any of the settings, you quickly found yourself in a somewhat complex set of menus which required that I paid close attention. Obviously, the menus were nowhere near acceptable for my family of users.

So with 10 months of usage under my belt, it was time to take a look at the upcoming 2008 release and give it a shot. If they fixed the performance problems, I'd do the upgrade. As if the software was reading my mind, it popped up a little dialog box warning me that I was down to 60 days on my virus definition updates license. This is good -- it's one of the features that I like since it reminds me well in advance rather than surprising me when it runs out. Good for the family too. Even better? There was an offer to try Norton Internet Security 2008 for the remainder of my current license for free! Perfect -- a 60 day trial would be plenty long enough to really give it a test drive. I even mentioned to the Smarter Half that offering the upgrade as part of the remainder of my license was a great idea and made me optimistic.

Unfortunately, I went from optimistic to stunned in about 15 minutes. The upgrade went smooth enough, but ended with a note saying that the software wasn't licensed and I needed to cough up $50 for the upgrade -- immediately. I poked around for the UI element that allowed me to use my old license and for any mention on the web site about how to enable my old license. No luck.

So without fanfare, Norton Internet Security 2008 was removed. With license renewal coming up for my dad as well, I'll be telling him to skip renewal as well. The bait and switch move was out of line and I neither have the time nor energy to fight Symantec on the issue. I'm sufficiently annoyed that I've ceased recommending their products as well.

At casual glance, this may seem like an over the top tantrum. I was headed for paying the upgrade shortly anyway after all. But its a little more detailed than that:

1. The product has become incredibly heavy and slow. Since having removed the product, my laptop literally feels like it was been reborn. Everything responds much faster and sleep/hibernate recovery times are much faster.

2. The product security coverage is getting increasingly segmented. Symantec appears to have a different product for each kind of coverage (malware, spyware, rootkits, viruses, etc.) and each requires a different product. The product integration is tedious and keeping track of what products do what is not worth the effort anymore. How is the casual user supposed to keep up with this mess?

3. Symantec marketing has been tedious for a while, but the glitch in upgrade is inexcusable. Whether it was intentional or a bug is moot - I don't care and have no interest in fighting the matter. If I wanted to battle with my software, I'd run FreeBSD and compile everything by hand.

So if you're keeping score, Symantec is going to have to come up with some significant atta-boys to recover from this aww-sh*t. It's also a good reminder for us product types - these details matter. When there are competitors in the field and the core value isn't highly differentiated, the polish and performance matters. For anti-virus, the core value isn't different from any other anti-virus product out there so the differences fall immediately onto the soft touches.

I'm evaluating other anti-virus products now. Kaspersky is on the top of list and is currently installed. So far so good. Polished, lightweight, some nice features. A little more expensive, but for an extra $10, I'll keep my system performing well thank you. Look for a review/decision soon.