Users of Symantec's Norton AntiVirus software are being prompted to re-enter product activation codes for the antivirus, firewall and antispam products whenever they reboot their machines.
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Symantec confirmed the problem on its website, which says the company is investigating the problem, but does not know what is causing it or how to fix it.
The problem affects the latest version of Symantec's desktop antivirus program, Norton AntiVirus 2004.
After installing Norton and successfully activating the product using the product activation code, users are prompted to re-enter 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."
Both US and international versions of Norton AntiVirus have exhibited the problem, as have other Symantec products in the 2004 line containing the product activation feature, said Del Smith, senior product manager for Symantec.
Fewer than 2,000 customers are affected, out of about 1.2 million who have used the product activation feature since the introduction of the 2004 versions in September, Smith said. From those users, Symantec has been unable to narrow the problem to a particular operating system or hardware configuration.
The company has only recently been able to reproduce the problem internally and cannot say whether a problem with the product activation software or a conflict with another application or hardware device is to blame.
The problem did not turn up in a 250,000-person test of the product activation feature, Smith added.
Symantec has asked customers who were experiencing the problem to install a utility called the Symantec Automated Support Assistant which gathers information about their system configuration. By sending computer systems information, this will "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, 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.
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 which installed the faulty update, leaving some customers without antivirus protection on desktops and servers running the software.
With no fix for the latest problem available, Symantec recommends that affected customers not reboot their machines if possible to avoid having the product deactivated.
Smith is confident the company will resolve the problem quickly, he said, adding that a fix will be posted on Symantec's website as soon as it is available.
Paul Roberts writes for IDG News Service