Symantec raises subscription rates

The cost of keeping viruses at bay just went up for all worldwide users of Symantec's popular Norton AntiVirus program. The company recently increased the price of its necessary subscription renewal program from US$3.95 to $9.95 a year, drawing the ire of some our vocal readers.

Symantec executives, however, defend the increase, saying it helps defray the company's costs of discovering new viruses and updating the software to detect and defeat them.

"The number of viruses we discover every day is dramatically increasing," says Laura Garcia, product manager for Norton AntiVirus. At the company's virus research facility--called Symantec Security Response--the company discovers 10 to 15 new viruses each day, she says.

Once the company detects a virus, programmers create a definition that lets the software detect it. Then they add that information to the weekly virus definition file that savvy PC users download regularly to update their antivirus software.

If a virus becomes very widespread, or particularly nasty, Symantec doesn't wait to add it to the weekly update, but offers it to customers for download right away, Garcia says.

Without these virus-definition updates, the antivirus software simply can't protect a PC against the latest batch of viruses. When you buy a full version of the software, Symantec includes 12 free months' worth of updates. To go beyond that, owners resubscribe, pay an annual fee, and receive updates for another year.

Critical updates

Symantec began the subscription price increase with the rollout of its new Norton Antivirus 2002 program in September. The price increase applies to renewals for all previous versions of the program, Garcia says.

You'll know when your software's subscription is about to run out because it will issue warnings at 30 days, 15 days, and 7 days, she says. To renew, you simply click a button and the software launches a browser window that walks you through the process. Plug in a credit card number, and you're set for another 12 months, Garcia says.

While customers have complained to PC World about the price increase, Garcia says Symantec has yet to hear any negative feedback about the higher rate.

"It was an extremely low price, and it is still extremely low," she says.

Symantec's major antivirus software competitor is Network Associates' McAfee division and its VirusScan product. A spokesperson for McAfee says the company's yearly virus definition subscription rate is $4.95. McAfee has no plans to increase that price in the near future, she says.

Renew or upgrade

PC owners still using older version of Norton Antivirus may be better served buying an updated version of the program instead of just renewing their subscription, Garcia says.

In addition to support for Windows XP, the latest version of the software includes improved e-mail scanning features, script-blocking capabilities, and the ability to deal with known viruses automatically.

Customers who already have Norton Antivirus software, or competing products from McAfee, can purchase the new software for $50, and then receive a $20 rebate through the mail.