Symantec: Our security savvy will beat Microsoft

Innovation is the key, says CEO John Thompson, adding: "We know more about security than they ever will."

SAN FRANCISCO--Symantec will fight off Microsoft's security software challenge by being better at coming up with new ideas, the company's CEO said Monday.

John Thompson vowed that it would put more resources into research and development over the coming the year, speaking to reporters at the Symantec's annual Vision conference here.

"Our strategy is to out-innovate Microsoft. We know more about security than they ever will," Thompson said.

Microsoft's development of security products for its upcoming Vista update to the Windows operating system prompted Symantec to be bullish about taking on the software giant.

"Competition with Microsoft is inevitable, given the way the tom-toms are beating at the moment," Thompson said.

Microsoft is developing Windows Live OneCare, a security service aimed at consumers that is scheduled for U.S. commercial release in June. It combines antivirus, anti-spyware and firewall software with backup features and several tune-up tools for Windows PCs. Client Protection, Microsoft's enterprise product, has no release date as yet and is in limited beta testing.

It's not the first time that Cupertino, Calif.-based Symantec has thrown down the gauntlet to Microsoft. Last month, Thompson branded the software giant a "Johnny-come-lately" into the security market. At the same time, he underlined that Symantec was setting its horizons to be a provider of all-around system protection, as opposed to a seller of antivirus software and other defense tools--a message Thompson also stressed at the Vision event.

In his remarks, Thompson also drew attention to Microsoft's security record. It has come under criticism in the past for the flaws in its software.

"We will make sure we utilise the strength of our global brands. Symantec is synonymous with security. Microsoft is synonymous with a lot of things, but security is not one of them," he said.

He added that Symantec would spend more on marketing, and added that it was not a "foregone conclusion" the Microsoft would "win" in the security marketplace. The company will also put resources into protecting customers with Microsoft systems.

"Our belief is that the Windows environment needs to be protected like any other. Tightening the (Microsoft) stack will be an important investment in the coming year," Thompson said.

He hinted that Symantec would give details about its marketing plans during its March quarter earnings call, scheduled for Tuesday.

Andy Buss, an analyst at U.K.-based IT consultancy Canalys, predicted that Microsoft's planned security tools would have a fair impact on the consumer antivirus market but doubted whether businesses would adopt the products as readily.

"Enterprises tend to chose proven technologies, are more conservative and are prepared to pay for the service," he said.

Buss added that Microsoft doesn't have a track record of providing an integrated product lineup for the whole of the enterprise, and said there was a particular gap in its tools to manage and respond to virus outbreaks. "These are areas where Microsoft's competitors can make hay," he said.

Tom Espiner reported for London-based ZDNet UK.

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