Yesterday’s Thoughts

February 2, 2005

I’m Uninstalling Norton AntiVirus

There goes a few hours of my life that I’ll never get back.

I was doing some basic maintenance on my home desktop system and I had some extra time while the disk was defragmenting, so I decided to renew my subscription for Norton AntiVirus. The Live Update feature had been nagging me for a week or so and the subscription was due to expire in two weeks, so it seemed like the time was right. Boy was that a mistake.

I should have known better when the Subscription Services renewal dialogue said, “If you don’t have a subscription key, call Symantec Customer Service to renew your subscription. Click Workwide Offices to find the telephone number of the office nearest to you.” What? I have to make a telephone call? Haven’t these people heard of the Internet? If I didn’t have an Internet connection, I wouldn’t need virus protection.

So, still blissfully unaware, I click on the “Worldwide Offices…” button. Once clicked through, I find a long list of Country/Region, Phone, and Web Page. I think, “Oh great they have a web page.” I should have thought, “Oh, no, the first screen shouldn’t have passed QA. I wonder what other problems I am getting myself into?”

Clicking on the link opens a page in my browser. I select my product, and after checking the main screen of Norton AntiVirus, the version, “2003 Professional Edition.” (I don’t know why I have Profession Edition, maybe for Windows 2000 Professional/XP Pro? ) I click through, decline the upsell to Norton Internet Security 2005, and see my shopping cart with the one item and “Proceed to Checkout.” I fill out the form, give my credit card number, create a password (blah, why do I need a password?), and check out.

I get an invoice and it contains my Subscription Key. I copy/paste the Subscription Key into the still open Subscription Services dialogue. Whoop! “The number you entered is not a valid subscription key. Please check the number and try again.”

Hmmm. Maybe I didn’t copy the whole key, or copied and extra character? Try again. Whoop!

OK. Try typing the Unlock Code by hand, eleven characters, (no spaces to make it easier to read, Symantec spits on their users). Whoop!

Maybe that is a capitol “O”, instead of a zero? Whoop!

By this time I have received an e-mail from Symantec (well really from, this is probably significant). I check that Subscription Key, it looks the same, but being an optimistic I guy, I think maybe it will work. Whoop!

Missing/extra characters? Whoop! Whoop!

Ok, now what? If all else fails, read the directions. The e-mail has a section, “Special Instructions for Subscription Orders:”

To complete your subscription renewal process, enter the Subscription Key provided above into your product. For detailed instructions on how to enter the Subscription Key for your specific product, please visit

The first sentence describes what I have been doing, but maybe I am missing something, so I follow the link to get the detailed instructions.

To this point in the story, my experience isn’t so unusual. This is a fairly typical human-machine interaction. It is low-level annoying, but it is the kind of frustration we have come to accept. On Windows, this level of frustration is a regular feature, but I have similarly bad experiences on a Mac, installing audio equiptment, or even with my microwave. I am not saying that this is acceptable – I certainly do not want to ship software that has these issues – but it can happen and it isn’t the end of the world. Once I click through to Symantec’s detailed instructions however, we are through the looking glass.

The first page is innocuous enough, apparently the instuctions for entering the subscription key are not the same for all program versions (Symantec’s emphasis). Instructions on how to find your programs version follow.

Whoop! Turns out the instructions are the same for all versions on Windows (my emphasis). I am starting to get annoyed with being jerked around. I click through, little suspecting what is to come.

The page starts simply enough. Description of the problem, and a solution:

“Step 1: Find the subscription key.” A reasonable explanation of what to do if you there wasn’t a key in e-mail you received, including the oh-so-reasonable possibility that if you merely run live update, the server will take care of it. Unfortunately, I have a subscription key, so I press on to this:

“Step 2: Print this document and disconnect from the Internet.” I kid you not. Disconnect from the internet. To install software. Why you might ask? Apparently many have before, because they go to the trouble of explaining:

Note: If you do not disconnect from the Internet before continuing to step 3, then the correct windows for renewal will not appear. For why you need to disconnect from the Internet for this to work, read the Technical Information section on this page.

Well, I’m a curious guy, and this seems like an outrageous request, especially, since I am trying to run Live Update to renew my subscription for a product that I only need because I am connected to the Internet, so I read the explanation of the explanation in the Technical Information section.

Why you have to disconnect from the Internet

There are two ways to renew a subscription. This method is the “failover” system designed for use when our subscription servers are not available or when a customer’s computer cannot successfully connect to the servers for other reasons. To make the failover windows appear for the subscription renewal process, it is necessary to simulate one of those situations. The easiest and most reliable way to do that is to disconnect the computer from the Internet.

That isn’t really an explanation. It is more like an excuse. Roughly translated:

We are unwilling, or technically unable, to either write a software interface that allows you to enter a character string, or to describe to you a simple way of getting to the interface that we did write, so give us your paper and disable your computer to work around our incompetence.

Well great. At this point, my folly is becoming clear. Instead of renewing, I should have uninstalled Norton AntiVirus and gone to some other product. I really have no faith in either Symantec as a company, or Norton AntiVirus as a product any longer. If they cannot produce better software, and a better user interface, why am I letting them on my desktop. This is true for any software, but especially a component that runs 24×7, and regularly updates itself without my intervention

Logic fails to win out here. I have fond memories of using Norton Utilities in about 1985 to recover data that had been deleted, and well, Norton AntiVirus has the same name, and … (quivering lip, tears, …)

In for a penny, in for a pound, right? I disconnect my network connection, reopen Live Update, receive the expected “Could not verify” message, and I get to (drumroll …) the same dialogue I had beem trying to use all along.

It’s easy enough to predict what happened next. I go through the same series of actions: copy/paste the subscription key – whoop!, enter key by hand – whoop!

Defeated, I restore my network connection and close the dialogue.

This is a reasonable time to mention that closing the dialogue isn’t so simple because if you click any of the available buttons: back, next, skip, or worldwide offices, you are hit with the whoop! dialogue. You have to delete the subscription key that you entered before you can navigate away from th window. Obviously, this error makes sense if you click the next button. You need to have entered a correct key. And, I can understand why it happens if you are using the back, or skip buttons, even though from the user’s perspective it doesn’t make any sense, it is sloppy programming and it is pretty poor that the user isn’t told how to escape from this Renewal hell.

Clicking on the worldwide offices button doesn’t take you away from the renewal window, it just opens another window. You really shouldn’t be required to enter a valid key to open a new window. I can imagine the programming here. I can’t imagine the programmer, the tester, or the organization that produced this.

Having been through this several times earlier, I now qualify as an experienced user of Live Update, so I know how to work around the problems in the program. I delete the key, and click on skip.

At this point, Live Update runs.

I wasn’t really expecting this to happen, but it makes sense. I was running Live Update to renew my subscription, and my subscription is still current. It will expire in two weeks, but I am still entitled to new updates until it expires. So great. While Live Update runs, I check on the defragmentation, make/get a couple of phone calls, check e-mail, etc.

When I check back, Live Update has thrown up a dialogue. It has updated my software and I need to reboot my computer. There is one option presented, “OK.” Arggghh. No “reboot later” option, only “OK.” (I know I could close the window, not really the same thing.) I have five windows open, in various states of necessity. I run through them, closing, or completing what I was doing, except for the defragmentation which still has a while to run, so I decide to just kill it. I want to get this renewal done, and I am thinking that maybe the problem with my key is that I need this newer software to install – I still don’t know what this update does, I just ran Live Update yesterday – in order to renew.

Reluctantly, I click OK. The computer reboots and I work for a while on the laptop. I come back to the desktop, login, run Live Update, and attempt to enter my key.


I give up.

I am calling for help.

I remember the phone number under the Worldwide Offices button. I find it. It’s a 541 area code. Whoop! If I am going to call long distance, I’ll use the cell phone. I dial the cell phone on the land line, follow the rings to the phone and call the number. Whoop! The number has been changed. Now it is an 800 number. It is good that it is free. It is bad that 1) I hunted for a phone, 2) they didn’t update the phone number when I updated the software ten minutes ago and 3) even though they repeat the number once before hanging up on me, I don’t have a pencil handy and have to call back to get the number.

I want a refund. I quit with this piece of crap. Peter Norton and his utilities be damned.

I call the 800 number. Nine options. “If you want a refund, please press 8.” I press 8. “If you purchased from Symantec, please press 1.” I press 1. “If you purchased from Symantec, please dial 1-800-blah, blah, blah.” A third number. Whoop! I didn’t catch the number the first time. Whoop! They didn’t repeat it. Whoop! And they hung up on me immediately, with giving me any options. Whoop!

I did call back to get the number, but it occurred to me that I should check the web site instead. There is a customer service link on the renewal page, which takes me to a FAQ page, with a “How do I request a refund?” link. Golden. I follow that link and follow the steps. This is when the password comes in handy. Who knew? You would think that just by having the order number, the subscription key, my credit card number and my e-mail address they could have located the order and verified my identity. I’m sure it was easier for Symantec to require me to furnish a password.

Anyway I swore that I had destroyed the software that I was unable to install on my machine and finished with the ordeal. We’ll see how quickly they issue my refund. I’m willing to bet that it will take longer than they take to bill my credit card, by a week, at least.

So what was wrong here:

1) Poor communication. The text was inaccurate. I had to determine the version of my software, even though the instructions for all Windows versions was the same. They told me I would be calling a number, when I could also check the web site. They gave me the wrong number. They didn’t repeat the phone number. They didn’t give me the chance to return to the voice mail system, so that I could reselect the same option to hear the number again, or maybe select another option. (Maybe if I had been able to reach tech support instead of having to call back to get the refund number, I might still be a customer today.)

2) Poor design. The voicemail system was poorly designed. Nine options is probably too many and hanging up on the caller is always a bad idea. The human-computer interfaces were poorly designed. There is no excuse for trapping me in a dialogue just because I don’t have a valid key. There is no excuse for forcing me to interupt my Internet connection to enter a key. There is no excuse for forcing me to reboot my computer on the applications schedule. A dialogue with only one option is hostile.

There really is no excuse for the whole procedure. There is something fundamentally wrong with the Live Update subscription model and the way that Symantec has implemented it. I have a piece of software that communicates with Symantec’s servers every day. I have paid for a subscription to allow this communication and the results of this communication can be quite extensive. Symantec causes new software to be installed on my desktop. They add to the virus database and they actively filter new applicaitons. I have given them a very large degree of control over what happens on my desktop. Why does the subscription verification have involve me typing in an eleven digit number with no spaces? Could they update this information on the server side? Aren’t they going to have to update it their in any case? If I change to clock on my local machine to keep it 2004 forever, will they continue to provide me with updates?

3) Poor management. Who is checking this? Does anyone look at the systems and quality of the software and the interaction? Are they just so big that they can do what ever they want? Are consumers more trouble than they are worth? This has to cost them in both users and support.

4) Finally, they provide poor customer service. The whole phone-number-changing, voicemail-transferring, hanging-up-on-the-user boondoggle is just too much.

Can any one recommend AntiVirus Softwre? I have two weeks.

25 Comment(s)

  1. jerome | Feb 9, 2005 | Reply

    I feel your pain. I’ve had bad run-ins with McAffee in the past and now I’m getting ready to ditch Norton.

    You can check out AVG by Grisoft ( – they have a free version for personal use so that eliminates the whole lousy sales experience.

  2. Kathryn | Feb 26, 2005 | Reply

    Same thing-paid for the software because they were bugging me and it was never installed. Now I am faced with the same process you had to go through. Wish me luck.


  3. dorothy Jackson | Apr 9, 2005 | Reply

    my PC would not acept your software so please concell my ordermy conformation no. is
    2119094390 thank you Dorothy Jackson

  4. pat latimer | May 4, 2005 | Reply

    I have been trying for three days to install updated version of Norton Anti Virus and I still don’t have it. Can’t get thru on phone – don’t even know how to concel. What a mess.
    Never again

  5. james b carrier | May 6, 2005 | Reply

    you have been bugging me for days now to renew
    but I have already did that on 3/22/05,order 939608196. so upgrade my virus contract asap
    and shape up
    j carrieer

  6. Ray | May 9, 2005 | Reply

    Dorothy, James,

    I am not Symantec.



  7. Charles de Bourbon | Jun 20, 2005 | Reply

    I gave up after more than two hours. It is just insane that you cannot get clear easy instructions while they manage to get to my site daily to remind me I have expired.My e-mail address at least 4 years old is unknown to them.

  8. c****** s**** | Jul 2, 2005 | Reply

    my name is c****** s**** and my email address is c******s****@******.net and my order no. is #94218**** paid on 20 May 05 for Extended download service, Norton Password Manager 2004 and Norton Internet Security 2005/Norton Password Manager 2004 could you pleas send me a download for the above items.

    C***** S****

    Deleted personal details. – Ray

  9. e**** a**** | Jul 5, 2005 | Reply

    a charge for renewal of my coverage has been charged to my disover card. however you also notified me that i was done because of non payment. please revioew and advise. e**** a**** 600 a******** street p****** ** 4**** uninted states of america

    Deleted personal details. – Ray

  10. albmr | Sep 28, 2005 | Reply

    I am experiencing exactly the same thing. Same errors, same technical document with same disconnect-from-the-internet head-scratcher. Wow. Unbelievable. I googled for “Norton Antivirus subscription renewal trouble” hoping to find some user out there who had a secret workaround that’s not published on the Symantec website. Instead, I found another victim of Symantec’s renewal sham (fraud?). Okay, I guess I’ll start the refund process. . .

  11. albmr | Sep 28, 2005 | Reply

    For what it’s worth, I opened a tech support case on Symantec’s web site and they had updated my subscription on the server side within hours. I was told I would not need my subscription key and to just run LiveUpdate. I did that and my renewal date showed the new extended date. It’s extremely bad that it came to that, but they did take care of it promptly. Maybe they have improved how they support subscription key errors in the months since the original posts on this topic. Although, I did have another head-scratching moment when the tech support e-mail “advised” me that this error can occur if the subscription key is expired. Um, I just received the key, like, three hours ago. That’s some fast-expirin’ stuff.

    I will definitely be looking for a different anti-virus program at this time next year.

  12. Linda Rudasill | Oct 5, 2005 | Reply

    I don’t know whether Symantec will ever see this or not…I rnewed my Norton’s Antivirus and now the computer keeps telling me its expired. I do have a confirmation of order along with the order number and date of order August 18, 2005. Please Somebody,,,tell me what to do or where to go to get some results.

  13. Ray | Oct 5, 2005 | Reply

    Hi Laura,

    I have noticed this before. What I think is happening is that the renewals take some time to process and that takes about 6 weeks for them to be activated. Looking at the calendar, you seem to be coming up on 7 weeks, so perhaps that isn’t it, but maybe give it another couple of weeks.

    Symantec has outsourced the sales of their product to Digital River, and for some reason Digital River cannot immediately let Symantec know that you have renewed your subscription. Digital River seems to be providing fulfillment to at least three of the major players in the anti-virus software market, so I suppose that they are cheap and that no company sees any competitive advantage in improving this situation.

    Good luck.

  14. Bob | Nov 9, 2005 | Reply

    As of (11/7/05) I have renewed my subscription to SYMANTEC (SP055C62851) but keep getting pop-ups asking me to renew(?). This is now 11/9/05 (evening). Please refund my money. I will seek protection elsewhere.

  15. nuke | Nov 18, 2005 | Reply

    super blog,owner respect

  16. Tom | Nov 21, 2005 | Reply

    I have the exact same problem .
    I cannot afford to waste any more time attempting to download this online purchace. Order no. 946992464
    I am asking for a refund and will uninstall symantic

  17. hossein-siahatgar | Nov 26, 2005 | Reply

    ineed norton antivirus 2005subscription key XP renew

  18. hossein-siahatgar | Nov 26, 2005 | Reply

    ineed norton antivirus 2005subscription key XP renew

  19. Lewis Babcock | Jan 1, 2006 | Reply

    On Dec.5 I ordered New norton AntiVitus 2006 Upgrade for windows 20006/xp.
    I got the upgrade OK but somehow I got the actual Progrm for another 39.99. I am sending the last one back,and the Upgrade caused so many problems I deleated it so I would like some restituion.

  20. sizegenetics | Jan 5, 2006 | Reply

    Three phrases should be among the most common in our daily usage. They are: Thank you, I am grateful and I appreciate.

  21. Sam | Jan 7, 2006 | Reply

    Trust me man, i feel for you. i’m not having the same trouble though. my computer is connected to a wireless network at school (yeah yeah, im a kid). the version of Norton Antivirus they provide, obviously, doesn’t come with any updates whatsoever. so the version i have is ancient, considering i have had my computer for 3 years now. so i call up my dad, he decides to put another antivirus software program on there called Avast. it is free (or so i’m told)so head to their website. But halfway through installing it, there is a message saying that there is a conflicting program. It’s Norton. so i think, easy…”Uninstall”. but no, it won’t let me do that. “An uninstall password is required”. i’ve been to every website possible, and nothing’s helped. so now i have to go to my school to obtain the password. The only problem? It’s the middle of the holidays and i have to wait 3 weeks before i can boot up my computer again! Thank you Norton Antivirus!

  22. Anonymous | Feb 24, 2006 | Reply

    the same happened to me. it was valid for a good 2000 days. Last night it just stopped working – no explanations why? you have company here. if you get to know to get norton working please post ot here. i’ll check. bye!

  23. macky | Feb 24, 2006 | Reply

    hahah why are these bozos posting their order nubmers here bytching at this

  24. Paul | Apr 15, 2006 | Reply

    I just spent 90 minutes entering two different credit cards that I know are ok, ’cause I tried them elsewhere, but keep getting the message that I need to re-enter the credit card info…. I wish I could get my hands around the throat of who ever is (not) responsible for this.

  25. size | May 30, 2006 | Reply

    that program nearly crashed my computer 4 times. i took it back and got my money back

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