McAfee's Brain-dead Renewal Procedures

NOTE: McAfee and McAfee VirusScan Plus are trademarks of McAfee, Inc.

DISCLAIMER: This information is a narrative of my experiences with renewing the McAfee virus protection software on my computers.  This information can possibly be used to "pirate" some McAfee software products.  The writer urges all readers to refrain from such actions.  All software should be used in accordance with the licensing and payment policies that apply to it.

History

I have been a long time user of McAfee virus protection software. However because my wife and I have always replaced our computers (laptops) each year and all other computers in our home have been isolated from the Internet, or are running Unix, (and thus did not need virus protection software), this is the first year that I have been faced with actually renewing a subscription to McAfee.  All other times I have merely been installing the software for the first time on a new computer. (Most of our other computers are operating CNC machines.)

This year I decided to give Internet access to all of our computers.  The reasons for this decision have nothing to do with the subject of this narrative, so will not be discussed here.

Like most people, I like a bargain.  So when shopping for McAfee, I would watch for sales from online merchants such as Buy.com.  I never bought directly from McAfee.  Why pay retail when there are discounted prices available?  I have found that the best deals are to be had during the last quarter of the year (Oct-Dec).  About a month ago, Buy.com was selling the 2008 edition of VirusScan Plus, 3 user version, for $15.00.  I need 10 copies, so I purchased 4 of the 3 user versions.

As you read this you will note a certain irony in the fact the McAfee on their "How to Renew Your Subscription" page state "You can also purchase our software from your retailer at your convenience".

The Problem

When you first install McAfee on a computer, you must register the program in order to receive updates to the virus detection routines.  Your registration ID is based upon your email address.  If it is the first time you have used a McAfee product, you must create a new account.  If you are a return user, you log into your existing account using your email address and password.

An important note here: McAfee virus programs have no serial number or other unique identifier.

Because I had legitimately purchased new copies of the program, it stands to reason that I would legally be entitled to an additional year of updates.  And there is nothing in the McAfee license that in any way states or infers that this is not the case.

I naively started the upgrade process.  I first removed the existing VirusScan Plus using the Control Panel Add/Remove function.  I then rebooted and, using the newly acquired CD, I installed the new copy.  However, I was never given the opportunity to register the program.  Additionally, my subscription expiration date had not changed.  I was not "credited" with the additional year for which I had paid.

McAfee does offer 24/7 chat and email support so I opened a chat session with their support department.   After explaining the situation, the technician ask if he could collect some information from my computer.  I gave permission and he used a remote program to gather the information.  I was told the problem was that the Add/Remove routine had not removed all vestiges of the old program.  I was given the URL of a program that I needed to run in order to be sure all of the McAfee program was removed from my computer.

This is the link for that program; MCPR.exe

The instructions were to download this program and save it to a folder on my computer.  I was then to uninstall McAfee again, using the Add/Remove Programs function.  After uninstalling I was to reboot my computer and run the program I had just downloaded (MCPR.exe), and again reboot my computer.  I would then be ready to install my newly purchased copy of VirusScan Plus.

I followed the instructions and this time I was allowed to register my new copy of VirusScan Plus.  Being an existing customer, I used my email address and password to login and register the program.

GUESS WHAT!!!  My subscription expiration date had not changed!!!!

Back to a chat session with McAfee.  After considerable conversation all I could learn was that my email address showed that I had a 3 user version with my old expiration date.

Investigation

McAfee tracks your subscriptions ONLY BY YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS.  Because I had purchased my "renewal" through the retail channels (as opposed to directly from McAfee), McAfee had no way of knowing that I had a new and legitimate copy of the program, so it blindly, using my email address as the only identifier, concluded that my subscription had expired.  The solution... Create a new account with a different email address.  Once I did that (after going through the removal, clean and reinstall process) all proceeded fine.  Now I have a new 3 user subscription under a new email address.

BUT WAIT!!!  I have purchased 4 copies of the 3 user version.  Yep, that's right, I needed 3 more email addresses in order to install the additional 3 copies.  For me that was no big deal. I own my own email server in addition to several domains.  But even if I did not have these resources, with all of today's free email services, it's easy to have multiple email addresses.

So why don't more people have this problem?  I think there are two reasons.

First, I think a lot of people blindly log into the McAfee web site and pay the $39.99 (additional charges for more than one computer) fee to extend their subscription for an additional year.  Since they are dealing directly with the McAfee computers, McAfee "knows" that they have paid the renewal fee and extends their subscription for an additional year.

Second, and this is conjecture, if you are upgrading with a "newer" version of the product, the registration program (on McAfee's servers) recognizes that you must have purchased a new version and thus extends your subscription.  I think for some reason I ended up trying to extend a 2008 version with another, newly purchased, 2008 version.

Why is this corporate stupidity?

Again, two reasons.

First, it INVITES piracy.  So long as you can get your hands on a McAfee product CD (original or copy), and use a unique email address (one that is not in the McAfee files), you can install and register the product.  Remember the "Pass Around" box of Cracker Jacks?  Well McAfee has created a pass around environment for their product.  I could just have easily purchased a single, one user, copy of the program and installed it 12 times using 12 different email addresses.  Likewise, I can pass along my copy of the product to a friend, and so long as he registers using a different email address, he has the product for free.  McAfee even provides the program to removed all vestiges of the program from a computer so a registry entry can't be hiding, telling McAfee that the product has already been installed on a particular computer.

Second, the solution is so simple and so cheap; Add a sticker with a unique serial number to the CD envelope or product box.  Virtually every other software company uses some variation of this scheme to protect their product.  And McAfee, and others who produce software that REQUIRES periodic updates in order to function properly, are in an especially favorable position.

Why?

Take a program like AutoCad.  A person can get a bootleg copy of AutoCad, with serial number, and install it on their computer.  So long as they don't request support, upgrades and are content to use a "legacy" version, it's practically impossible for the program publisher to control pirating.

But McAfee and other publishers of programs that require frequent updates to be effective are in a unique position.  If McAfee were to just start using serial numbers, piracy would be nearly impossible.  A person purchases McAfee.  When registering the program they are required to enter the serial number which is recorded in the McAfee data base.  If it's a 3 user version, the same serial number would be allowed to be used 3 times.  Once the maximum number of registrations has been reached, the McAfee computers will no longer allow additional registrations.  Upon a successful registration, an additional serial number will be produced by the McAfee computers and passed to the user's computer.  Now these two serial numbers are linked both in the McAfee data base and the user's computer.  When the periodic updates are required, both numbers are passed to the McAfee computers where they are checked against the McAfee data base.  A successful match allows the update otherwise it is denied.

When renewal time comes, the user can choose to purchase a new copy of the software at retail.  Because this copy will have a unique serial number, the user will have no problem activating it and extending his subscription by one year.

It is beyond comprehension why McAfee maintains the arcane method it currently uses.  It costs the user in frustration.  It costs McAfee in support expenses.  It costs McAfee in pirated copies. It's a no win situation.

Additional problems

Prior to this most recent installation of VirusScan Plus, I did not have the SiteAdvisor feature. I noticed that after the installation of this most recent version my Gmail account ran agonizingly slow. (Other web sites performed as before.)  I suspected something to do with the new installation of McAfee.  After disabling features one by one I finally determined that SiteAdvisor was the culprit.  With it disabled, my Gmail account worked fine.  There may be a subtle tuning of SiteAdvisor or another element of VirusScan Plus that will eliminate this problem, but I have yet to investigate it.

Conclusion

 I have written this narrative in hopes that it will allow purchasers of McAfee products to install the products with a minimum of fuss.  If you have any comments, please email me at the address below.


Gary
K7OIJ
Email: netboss at mypage dot net




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