The Tech Herald

Is McAfee selling 2009 products in a 2010 box? (Part 2)

by Steve Ragan - Sep 25 2009, 23:05

Last Friday, one of our readers sent an email asking about McAfee and the sales of their 2010 products, which led to the editorial titled, “Is McAfee selling 2009 products in a 2010 box?” Earlier this week, after that editorial was published, we were asked to speak with McAfee’s Dave Klenske, who wanted to clarify a few things.

The original editorial is here. To recap briefly, a reader sent us an email that asked the question, if a security company was actively selling 2009 anti-Malware products within a 2010 box, is that bad business, false advertising, or at the least misleading? Valid questions, so we did some digging, and discovered that Amazon, Newegg, and Buy.com were just three of the locations online where you can purchase McAfee’s 2010 products.

This was in stark contrast to what McAfee was selling from their own website, where the 2009 products were featured. Moreover, the 2010 version of Total Protection was in beta testing. We asked McAfee for commentary on the issue, and were told that, “…consumers who buy the retail 2010 box will automatically get any new features that McAfee releases, and that includes the new features we are testing in our beta and which we expect to release in the first half 2010.”

That statement was backed by a post to McAfee’s beta forum by Dawn Forrester, which has since been deleted, that read, “The 2010 Retail product is designed to automatically update to the latest available version at install time. When the current beta version of the product is complete and ready for production release, the CD will install it via a web download.”

We asked why the forum post was deleted, and Klenske said, “We talked to Dawn about her comment, and I believe her comment was inaccurate. We talked to [her] and we said there’s confusion out there. We have to be clear how we’re talking about this because it’s leading to consumer confusion.”

While not directly related to our initial post on the topic. Klenske said the Total Protection software in beta has been renamed from Total Protection 2010 to Total Protection 4. This is part of the clarifying process, so the two products can remain separate. According to Klenske, one possible reason for the 2010 product boxes to appear on the main page of the beta site was timing.

“When we’ve done betas in the past we’ve had box shots, but usually they were older box shots that we’ve had on the beta site,” he said. This year, however, the beta coincided with the launch of McAfee’s 2010 product line, so they used the 2010 boxes in the development of the beta website.

“Hopefully we can clarify that we do regular beta releases, and this time again we had the box shot up there for the 2010. We’ve kind of changed that website now to make it clear. McAfee Total Protection version 4.0 is what the beta was really called, but because of the excitement around the 2010 launch we had the shots up there and I think that led to some of your confusion.”

Later in the conversation, Klenske explained their processes in more detail. “…we’re actually testing the software that will turn out to be our next major release of the 2010 product, it’s going to be the first half of 2010 that consumers will get it, and some features and functionality we might change, but we’re beta testing it today.”

In addition, he added that since McAfee uses a Software-as-a-Service model, “…we regularly release major and minor updates through out the year.”

“Our competitors do major updates once a year, so what’s on the retail box is the same as what’s on the website up until they have next years launch. For us, because we release these throughout the year, our retail box is the collection of everything we’ve released since the last retail box was produced.”

That’s the beauty of Software-as-a-Service, according to Klenske, because customers will get all of McAfee’s major releases throughout the year that their subscription is valid.

Realistically, this is the same for some of their competitors too. With permission to quote them for the record, Kaspersky told us that they are planning to release an update to 2010 users that will add a URL scanning feature, via a flash update. The URL scanning release from Kaspersky will be “well in advance of our Kaspersky 2011 product introduction.”

So to make sure we understood, we asked Klenske to confirm that it doesn’t matter what version the customer purchases. A consumer can either purchase Total Protection 2009 from the McAfee website, or Total Protection 2010 from Amazon, but in the end the two versions are going to be exclusively the same because of the updates.
 
“Let me clarify that, just so we’re all clear. If you do that and, the CD will update…as long as you’re connected to the Internet, yes they will be the same,” Klenske said referring to the product purchased in the 2010 box from Amazon.

At the same time, “…if you had a PC that was not connected to the Internet and you bought the 2009 CD, or installed to 2009 CD then on another PC not connected to the internet installed 2010, you would have different products,” Klenske noted, reminding us that Internet connectivity is required for McAfee’s products.

“So if you install 2009 and then install 2010 you know very quickly they will be the identical software, it takes a little while for the update to happen, but they will be the identical software product, because we automatically update.”

We understand McAfee wants to clear up the confusing aspects of the sales process and the beta testing process. While we already had a statement from them, we’re not out to knock McAfee, so we took their call earlier this week to afford them the chance to do just that.

The confusion remains however, even after the beta was renamed from Total Protection 2010, to Total Protection 4.

As Klenske pointed out, there are new offerings on the CD sold in the 2010 box. The listings on Amazon confirm his statements. Klenske was very clear that if you bought the 2010 product on Amazon you get the same product that anyone who purchased it directly from McAfee’s website would get.

Yet, the support staff on McAfee’s own website contradicts him. While I will not name the support agent, I will quote him. As I was on McAfee’s site, I was greeted with a box that asked if I wanted to talk to a McAfee support agent. I accepted the chat and asked what the difference was between the version of Total Protection being sold on Amazon and the one available on McAfee’s site.

“The difference between the CD version from Amazon and the online version with McAfee is the version upgrades. The CD version is only for that version where the online product is a versionless product,” the agent wrote, adding that, “…if there was any version upgrades, the CD product does not receive those, as they are not included with the purchase. The online version does get those free of charge.”

I asked, thinking about what I was previously told by Klenske, if I installed from the CD, would the updates that the online version got come to me as well.

To which the agent responded, “The virus updates you will get as normal, however, if there were any updates that are specific to the version you do not have, you will not get those updates. The online version will ensure you have all the latest updates and upgrades to the product.”

If an average consumer were to have that same conversation, there is no way they wouldn’t walk away from it confused.

When it comes to McAfee's sales model overall, and what Klenske said, I get it. From my side of things, this isn’t confusing. However, it’s my job to get it. So while the beta was renamed, to Total Protection 4, removing the notion that McAfee is selling beta software, there are other parts to the overall issue.

The fact that Total Protection 2010 is being sold on Amazon and Total Protection 2009 is listed as the latest product on McAfee’s own site, some consumers are bound to wonder why McAfee isn’t selling the newest software themselves.

That’s confusing enough on its own, but if consumers had the same conversation with the agent I did, the confusion is bound to be compounded and mixed with a feeling of betrayal, as it appears that the software on CD will somehow fail to get the latest upgrades and protections.

This isn’t the case. At the same time, how many consumers honestly understand this? Consumers purchase security software out of fear. This fear can center on cybercrimes such as identity theft, criminals using Malware, or any number of other things. So to them, the newest version number means better protections. Being told otherwise will not sit will with some.

If you’re the go to person in your family for all things computer related, here’s a question for you. How do you think your relatives would view the chat with the support agent? Do you think they would understand the nature of a continuous release cycle?

McAfee sees no problem with how they are selling products. They have a release process that keeps everyone on the same level, as long as their product license is valid. While it appears that their online chat agents haven’t gotten the memo, McAfee has explained the difference between the two versions for sale, as well as what it means to purchase either one.

A comment left on the previous editorial started with, “I think that it comes to down to this - they can't have their cake and eat it too, which is what they are doing. If they want to have rolling release model where new features and updates are released continually and not on a yearly cycle like the rest of the industry that is fine. But, then don't use the annual or year naming convention because that is misleading.”

Considering that the code being beta tested (Total Protection v4), will eventually be released to consumers who are using active Total Protection software licenses, for either the 2009 or 2010 versions, the point of the original editorial remains the same.

The launch of the 2010 product, going to retail online at places like Amazon, simply appears as a move to keep up with the competition. Moreover, it is confusing to the customer. How could it not be when they see one version of McAfee’s software for sale at a retailer and another version from the company itself?

What matters most is consumer perception. If they think this is misleading, they will either buy it and demand a refund, or purchase from another vendor.

[This editorial is the opinion of Steve Ragan and not necessarily those of the staff on The Tech Herald or the Monsters and Critics (M&C) network. Comments can be left below or sent to security@thetechherald.com]

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