Symantec Locks Horns With Microsoft

Users uneasy over Symantec's attempts to derail the launch of Microsoft's Vista OS

Users are watching intently from the sidelines and predicting some security hiccups with the upcoming Vista OS if Symantec's newly filed lawsuit against Microsoft moves forward.

Yesterday Symantec charged that Microsoft has "misappropriated" Symantec's storage technology, centering on the vendor's VolumeManager offering, which Symantec claims has been incorporated into Vista.

According to the lawsuit, Symantec is seeking an injunction to prevent development, sale, and distribution of Vista, and is also seeking damages from Microsoft, which licensed a "simplified version" of VolumeManager from Veritas back in 1996.

Symantec obtained the VolumeManager technology, which can be used to copy, move, and delete data, when it acquired storage vendor Veritas for $13.5 billion last year. (See Shareholders OK Veritas/Symantec Merger, Symantec, Veritas Complete Merger, and M&A Worries Stall Symantec Shares.)

Vista, which has already been delayed, is slated for release to businesses in November and consumers in January 2007. The operating system, which is the firm's largest upgrade since the launch of Windows XP in 2001, will improve desktop security and boost users' ability to share information across mobile devices and remote locations, according to Microsoft.

The vendor is already touting Vista as the most secure Windows operating system yet, and is developing a series of enhancements based around authentication, malware protection, and users' ability to lock down files. A feature called Encrypting File System, for example, which provides user-based file and directory encryption, has been enhanced to allow storage of encryption keys on smart cards.

An IT manager at a Nevada-based Internet firm, who asked not to be named, agreed that the dispute, if it affects the Vista rollout, could mean trouble for many users. "For companies that are counting on the Vista features, that could be a big deal. Businesses that are 100 percent Microsoft on back-office systems and workstations will be most concerned," he says, although he expects minimal impact in his own firm, which is not solely reliant on Microsoft.

Shlomi Harif, director of network systems and support at Austin Independent School District, says that, although the education sector is not traditionally at the bleeding edge of new technology deployments, any further Vista delays would be bad news for users -- but a hidden opportunity for some security vendors.

"It would give a second bite of the apple to security companies that are looking to tout solutions that Vista might otherwise have overshadowed," he explains, adding that mobile security specialists and vendors of network access products, in particular, could seize on the opening.

Microsoft, however, hit back at Symantec in a statement, saying that the legal action "stems from a very narrow disagreement" over the terms of the 1996 contract with Veritas. Symantec's claims, it added, "are unfounded because Microsoft actually purchased intellectual property rights for all relevant technologies from Veritas in 2004."

When contacted, Redmond had this email response for Byte and Switch: "Microsoft is on track to make Windows Vista available direct to our business customers in November via our Volume Licensing program. The company is targeting broad consumer availability and new PCs in January of 2007."

The software behemoth continues to make a concerted push into the security space. Earlier this week, for example, Microsoft snapped up SSL VPN hardware vendor Whale Communications for an undisclosed fee, as it looks to boost its Network Access Protection (NAP) strategy. (See Microsoft in Whale of a Deal.)

— James Rogers, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch. Special to Dark Reading

Organizations mentioned in this article:

  • Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)
  • Symantec Corp. (Nasdaq: SYMC)
  • Whale Communications Ltd.