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Symantec-Microsoft Suit Casts Pall on Vista

Analysis: Did Symantec sue Microsoft to throw a kink in its plans for Windows Vista, which will have security features similar to what Symantec offers?

Depends on what you choose to believe.

You can believe Symantec's argument that Microsoft willfully misused the Volume Manager code Symantec acquired from Veritas to shore up security in its forthcoming Vista operating system.

Or you can believe that Symantec feels wronged by long-time ally Microsoft after years of working together to make a formidable, secure platform for customers.

Directions on Microsoft analyst Michael Cherry said the suit is Symantec's way of stepping up to protect its interest, not an attack against a rising rival in the security software space.

"I don't believe this has anything to do with security software. This totally relates to an agreement the two companies had over some technology," said Cherry. "Symantec's assertion is that Microsoft violated that agreement."

Or you can believe the security specialist filed suit to cast even more fear, uncertainty and doubt over the oft-delayed OS. That despite its lofty market position Symantec views Microsoft as a threat on the horizon.

Symantec's suit is seen as a shot across the bow of a company who has drifted into its waters.

Microsoft has repeatedly said that when it appears, Vista will be the most secure OS the company has ever created.

Vista's security features, including a phishing filter and anti-spyware, could help it better compete with Symantec in the security software arena Microsoft is so keen on expanding its presence in.

Symantec is the market leader for security software, but most people who have watched the industry awhile will tell you there is no comfortable market "lead" when Microsoft enters the game.

Consider this: Symantec doesn't have a track record of suing other vendors. Litigation, as we've seen in countless cases, is a popular monkey wrench for vendors to throw into the wheels of competition.

Think of SCO versus IBM, and everyone else it sued, three years ago.

Remember the recent NTP/RIM imbroglio.

Think of the current mess between Sun Microsystems and Azul.

There are those who will say there are legitimate beefs behind these suits. That may be. Who wants someone else piggybacking off their technology?

But in the end, it's all about stopping the other team from winning the game.

Symantec has a proud, bold CEO in John Thompson, who is not afraid of standing up to any challenger in the public arena.

Even though his company has partnered with the Redmond, Wash., giant, Thompson has called Microsoft a "Johnny-come-lately," an old-school dismissal few would dare make about a giant like Microsoft.

Now the question is: What impact will this suit have on Vista, whose consumer versions were delayed and triggered corporate restructuring shortly after?

Symantec counsel Michael Schallop said Microsoft has 30 days to file a legal rebuttal to the suit, which details what code was used and in what products Microsoft used them, including Windows Server 2003 and Vista.

CEO Steve Ballmer, no stranger to fielding legal questions from the European Commission and the Department of Justice, has said he doesn't anticipate the suit will keep Vista from meeting its January 2007 target.

Yankee Group analyst Laura DiDio said that it's too early in the legal game to tell what effect the Symantec might have on Vista.

Microsoft, based on its history in such matters, may not take a chance.

"In the past two years, Microsoft has moved quickly and decisively to settle problematic and potentially problematic lawsuits such as this one," DiDio said.

The company has settled with Sun Microsystems, Novell and Burst to name a few.

"My guess is that after some very public posturing by both sides -- which touts the validity of each firm's respective position -- that Symantec and Microsoft lawyers will go to work and quickly hammer out an agreement," DiDio added. "Microsoft does not need or want any more clouds to possibly impinge on Vista."

Gartner analyst Michael Silver, whose company recently estimated Microsoft will need several more months to test Vista before it's ready to be released, agreed.

"Anything that threatens Microsoft to have to make a change certainly threatens Microsoft's ability to get Vista out on time, whatever that means," Silver said.

"I think Microsoft will be motivated to try and make it go away if they can."