Once upon a time, some of the most famous examples of boxed software in the world were Norton's PC utilities—especially in the era when the boxes in question bore the geeky visage of Peter Norton, the company's founder. But boxed software on physical media long ago largely gave way to downloadable software. And lately, downloadable software has been morphing into subscription-based services.
Now Symantec, which has owned the Norton line of products since 1990, is taking the brand's disparate offerings—currently including Norton Antivirus, Norton Internet Security, Norton 360, Norton Mobile Security, and more—and boiling them down into one service called Norton Security. Pay for it, and you'll get access to all of Norton's products for Windows PCs, Macs, and mobile devices.
Norton Security will come in only two variants. $79 a year gets you the standard edition on up to five devices. Another $10 on top of that gets you everything in the standard edition, plus online backup, on up to ten devices. There will be discounts for current customers, and nobody who's using an existing product will be forced onto a Norton Security plan right away.
The move isn't startling—it's roughly comparable to what two other big names in packaged software, Microsoft and Adobe, have already done with their Office 365 and Creative Cloud services, respectively. Both take conventional software—Microsoft's Office and Adobe's Creative Suite—and turn it into subscription offerings that entitle you to download the current versions of an array of apps for Windows PCs, Macs, and mobile devices.
For Norton, the shift isn't quite as much of a sea change. Security software has long been sold via subscription, since there's not much point in running an outdated version that doesn't know about the latest threats. And more and more of the heavy lifting performed by Norton products has been done in the cloud, turning its products into hybrids of traditional client software and web-based services.
Fran Rosch, the Symantec executive vice president in charge of the Norton business, is up front about the fact that turning standalone apps into a subscription service could be good for the bottom line. "The Norton business represents about $2 billion in revenue for the company," he says, "but it is really kind of struggling with growth." (Sluggish PC sales haven't helped.) With Norton Security, the company will automatically charge consumers an annual fee rather than waiting for them to decide to upgrade standalone apps on their own timetable.
To sweeten the deal, Symantec is introducing a money-back guarantee. If a Norton Security customer gets a virus and it can't be removed either through software or with the help of a tech-support rep, the company will issue a refund. Still, Rosch says that the Norton Security proposition will require some consumers to rethink their relationship with the company: "A lot of our users still think of us as, they're buying a box of software or downloading software."
Oh, and those familiar yellow boxes of Norton software? In most of the world, they'll become a thing of the past. But the brand won't disappear from brick-and-mortar retailers altogether. Shoppers will be able to purchase physical cards which they can then take home and use to get up and running with Norton Security.