The anti-virus industry has long drawn its biggest share of profits from loyal customers, extracting full-price for the software from existing customers seeking license renewals while steeply discounting their products for new users. But a new comparison shopping site makes it simple for renewing customers to take advantage of these introductory deals, or to switch to a competing product for a hefty price reduction.
Launched a month ago, renewalbuddy.com is intended to streamline the process of searching for deals to renew your existing anti-virus product without paying the full renewal price. For example, I have Norton Internet Security installed on one of my Windows 7 machines; I selected that product from the pull-down menu, told it I wanted a 3-user license, and instantly saw an offer for NIS 2011 for $29.99. Had I simply waited until the product was about to expire and followed the prompt from the currently-installed software to renew my license, that renewal would have cost me $62.99, according to Symantec’s site.
True, you can find these deals on your own just by spending a few minutes searching the Web (the $29.99 link offered by this service brought me to an offer on Amazon.com). But my sense is that very few people who pay for anti-virus software ever do this.
“People assume that a renewal license key is somehow different from a new license key, and that’s why most people click on the expiration pop-up and go through the process and end up paying full price for renewals,” said Graham O’Reilly, renewalbuddy.com’s chief executive and a former sales director of the U.K. division of anti-virus maker AVG Technologies. “What people don’t understand is that a license key is a license key, and that they can just pop it in to the program without having to reinstall it, and it will extend a license in the same way.”
The site tries hard to get you to “switch” to another anti-virus maker, and these referral commissions are where renewalbuddy.com expects to earn the bulk of its revenue. When I first began playing with the site, the page that featured the various Norton offerings had no fewer than seven green and red buttons promoting the “switch offer,” which initially was Panda Internet Security 2011. When I revisited the site a few hours later and re-ran the Norton search, the switch offer was Kaspersky Internet Security.
I don’t want this column to sound like I’m urging everyone to go out and buy anti-virus software. Anyone who has followed my work long enough will know that I’ve been somewhat critical of the anti-virus industry, which increasingly seems to be falling farther behind in combating exploits, and in detecting the latest threats within the crucial first 48 hours of a new malware specimen’s lifespan.
Many Windows users will no doubt be perfectly happy using a free anti-virus offering. I have a ridiculous number of computers in my office and around the house, and have free anti-virus on three of the six Windows-based systems. One is running Avast Free Antivirus, another Comodo Internet Security, and the other one has Microsoft Security Essentials. Out of those three, I vastly prefer Avast, which seems the speediest and least resource-intensive.
Readers often ask about the difference between free and paid anti-virus. The differences depend on the products you’re comparing, but by and large the freebies have fewer bells and whistles, and usually don’t offer customer support. Also, recent comparisons by anti-virus testing lab AV-Test.org showed that paid anti-virus products tend to perform slightly better in detecting malicious software.