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Symantec CEO: We're in the protection business

John Thompson says security moniker falls short of the mark--and he's not worried about Microsoft's OneCare.

CUPERTINO, Calif.--John Thompson, CEO of Symantec, says his company plans to continue acquiring other businesses and is settling into a new, expanded role in the industry.

The clear, central message is that Symantec is no longer simply a security company and must now battle with the likes of CA, Microsoft and Oracle, where once it picked its fights within the antivirus community.

"We've not been an antivirus company since 2000," Thompson said in a meeting at Symantec's headquarters here. Even the word "security," he said, no longer accurately describes what his company does: "We are in the protection business. Not like Tony Soprano, but we see a need to move the protection closer to the data."

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Video: Symantec CEO has a warning
At RSA 2006, Thompson says it won't be a major cyberattack that will cripple electronic business, it will be loss of consumer confidence.

At the heart of this repositioning is Symantec's highly publicized $13.5 billion purchase of Veritas Software in December 2004.

"There have been some enormous data breaches over the past 12 months, and while that doesn't vindicate the decision to merge with Veritas it does display the need to bring the protection closer to the data," Thompson said.

He acknowledged that at the time of the Veritas deal a number of investors didn't see the relevance of marrying security and storage, but he said he is done trying to convince any remaining doubters whose focus may be more on the numbers than the technology.

"We're focused on executing now. I'm not going to spend any more time trying to pitch the Symantec-Veritas merger," said Thompson, addressing a small group of journalists at the company's headquarters here.

He said acquisitions will continue apace alongside a greater focus on in-house development. "I don't envisage Symantec being involved in another Veritas-size deal anytime soon," he said.

Asked what areas may remain on his wish list, Thompson joked: "I want the technology that gives me a monopoly like Microsoft's. But I'd be a much gentler monopoly."

The Redmond giant came in for more chiding from Thompson, who maintains that Microsoft's moves into security haven't cost him even one hour's sleep. Branding the company a "Johnny come-lately," he says Microsoft's talk has yet to be backed up by action.

"Let's get OneCare in the marketplace and see how it performs," said Thompson, adding that Microsoft's easiest wins may be among the 60 percent or so of users with little or no protection in place. "It's potentially inevitable that Microsoft will get some percentage of the protected base, but we stand on our track record and credibility. Microsoft has to build a track record and credibility, which is sorely lacking."

"I sleep like a baby," he said. "I only worry about what I can control. I can't control what company A or company B is doing, whether it's Microsoft or whoever."

After a year of concern among some factions of Symantec shareholders, Thompson said he still sees strategic acquisitions, alongside organic growth, as delivering greater value to his investors than a dividend.

As such, he said he expects the coming year will see more consolidation, more development and more marketing, but nobody holding their breath waiting for a dividend--or a kind word about Microsoft.

Will Sturgeon of reported from Silicon Valley.