Symantec product activation causing headaches

An antipiracy feature in Symantec Corp.'s popular Norton AntiVirus software is causing headaches for some users, who are being prompted to re-enter product activation codes for the antivirus, firewall and antispam products whenever they reboot their machines.

Symantec on Thursday acknowledged the problem in a note posted on its Web site, which says the company is investigating the problem, but does not know what is causing it or how to fix it.

The problem affects Norton AntiVirus 2004, the latest version of Symantec's desktop antivirus program, Symantec said. After installing Norton and successfully activating the product using the product activation code, users are prompted to reenter the code each time their computer restarts. After a number of reboots, the product displays a message saying "The trial period has expired. This product has been disabled because you have not activated it."

In the Web site note, Symantec asks customers who were experiencing the problem to install a utility called the Symantec Automated Support Assistant that gathers information about their system configuration. The company says sending computer system information would "help Symantec product development resolve this issue."

In August, Symantec said that it was introducing product activation features in all its new products, starting with Norton AntiVirus 2004. The product activation feature works in a similar manner to those used by other companies, including Microsoft Corp., which introduced product activation for many of its products in recent years, including Windows XP.

As with Windows XP, Symantec's software uses a unique alphanumeric value based on information unique to the user's machine, such as serial numbers on hard drives and video cards in the machine. That value is combined with the unique product software key to create the activation code. The company has said its decision to use product activation features was prompted by widespread piracy of Symantec's products.

This is not the first time this year that Symantec has come under scrutiny for releasing faulty code. In June, the company ran into trouble when a software update for Symantec AntiVirus Corporate Edition caused the software to fail. Symantec's antivirus software would not start on desktop systems that installed the faulty update, leaving some customers without antivirus protection on desktops and servers running the software.

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