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Symantec CEO eyes change, not retirement

After 15 years at the helm, Gordon Eubanks wants to step down as Symantec's president and chief executive--but he isn't ready to call it quits.

Tech Industry
After 15 years at the helm, Gordon Eubanks wants to step down as Symantec's president and chief executive--but he isn't ready to call it quits.

Once a successor is found, the crusty Silicon Valley pioneer--who turned Symantec into a leading antivirus and PC tools company--will take over as chairman of the board, where he will forge the company's future strategy and long-term goals.

In an interview with CNET this week, Eubanks discussed the increased role of the Internet in software delivery, the future of Java and development tools, and his take on the Microsoft trial.

CNET What direction do you want to push Symantec toward?
Eubanks: We want to see Symantec focus very hard in the areas of content security and supporting remote workers. There's tremendous demand to support these workers. That's been our focus in the last year and we think this will grow rapidly over the next few years. As bandwidth increases, it's less and less important where you are. Imagine in five years when there's a T1 connection or fractional T1 speeds for wireless. What we do in this environment is the value we add?the management of the right phone numbers, right IP addresses, and the right software, so this all works.

Looking ahead, how will the industry roll out software? Some people say software translated to the Web for application rental makes sense.
Eubanks: I'd like to move software from putting it in the hard disk to leaving it on the Net. The barrier is bandwidth. When we started, I remember the incredible battles of "When can we quit putting 5 1/4 inch disks in a box?" Now everything is in CD-ROMs. When computers have high-speed Net access, what's the difference? It's all the same thing. We're delivering content. We'll still be in the same business. It's just a packaging issue.

But subscription is a much better word. Rental has the wrong connotation. I rent a car. I bring the car back and return it. With a subscription, it's ongoing. You can continue to give me an ongoing value and I continue to pay you. We think it's a viable market, where the biggest value-add is content and differentiation is the engine.

Differentiation? You mean how services are delivered?
Eubanks: What you pay for the product on day one is not nearly as important as what you pay for the life of the product in subscription. Take antivirus today. We compete with Network Associates. Both of us can find the Michelangelo virus. There's no difference. If there's a difference, it lies in two broad areas: design of the engine [for virus detection] and how to effectively create content. Our content is antivirus definitions and crash scenarios we can prevent.

Every couple of weeks, another virus comes up. Are viruses being overhyped?
Eubanks: Does the press overhype serial killers? I mean, there's millions of people in San Francisco and only 10 or 11 people get killed at any one time. So the press must be seriously overhyping serial killers. Does the press sometimes overhype something like that? Absolutely. Does the industry sometimes overhype? What is true is that I want to know if there's a serial killer in the Saratoga and Cupertino areas. If that's withheld from me, I would be pissed. In the same way, people want to know if there are viruses. It's important to educate people.

Focusing on development tools, where do you see the market going? It hasn't been terribly profitable lately. Do you see some consolidation or growth?
Eubanks: We always see growth in the future. It's developing in a reasonable way. Corporations don't just start ordering 3,000 seats of a development tool. They go through pilots, get comfortable with it, create applications, test them--and what you want to be is a standard when people are going through that phase. All the data shows that Visual Cafe 3 is the tool of choice among [Java] developers.

IBM has announced plans to create Java tools specific to the emerging embedded tools market? Does Symantec plan to jump into that market aswell?
Eubanks: We're looking at that. I think embedded Java is going to be important now that the chips on the phones all have Java Virtual Machines. Java will be in all these devices--the toasters and microwaves of the world.

We're looking at what we can do with our tools to interface them. We have the best Java tools and best JITS [Just-In-Time Compilers], so we see this as an area of interest. For embedded Java, you have to get tools into the phone, onto the SIMMs, to test and prototype. What companies want us to do is have a different front-end [to our existing tools].

The vision you have is IP [Internet Protocol] everywhere. We're moving to all devices that speak IP. Java plays a role as the de facto standard. Our view as people move forward with connectivity and multiple devices is, "How do we help corporations manage the environment?" We want to help corporations manage the environment and not lose the data.

What's your opinion of the Justice Department's antitrust suit against Microsoft?
I personally believe the government will do much better if they let the competitive forces of the industry deal with the technology. I don't think the government is particularly adept in trying to legislate competitive situations like technology. I don't think they've ever been successful. The government should just move on.

Do you see any evidence of any sort of split with Java? Are developers going the Microsoft route or Visual Cafe?
Eubanks: I think the bigger pressure is that if Java is going to reach its potential and be where it could be in distributed environments and embedded systems and large enterprise development, Sun has got to loosen the reigns and let the horses run a little bit. Sun has done a remarkable job in setting the vision and direction, but at some point, your parents have to let you go out at night and hope you come back.

We'd like to see a single standard and aggressively support Sun's standard. A certain amount of flexibility would go a tremendous distance here. It's not like Unix. There are good reasons why Unix fragmented: People were trying to solve different problems and therefore went in different directions. Here, we could have agreement, but it will take more participation than just one company. Certainly, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Symantec, Microsoft, Sun--all these companies--have legitimate reasons to have voice in the direction of Java.

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