Apr 04 2007

Why did AV firms miss Vista release deadline?

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Vmyths reader Harvey Kern upgraded to Microsoft Vista only to discover “NEITHER Norton NOR McAfee have Vista-compatible anti-virus programs. This means that the built in and free AOL anti-virus program (powered by McAfee) doesn’t work either. They are apparently working on them and hope to have them ready within about two months.” Kern observed “most other cyberspace companies (like AOL, Adobe Reader, etc.) had already produced Vista ready programs to go with the release of Vista.”

Now, I could simplify things by saying “Symantec and McAfee kept up with all Microsoft operating systems before Vista.” But I’d need to qualify my statement by saying Windows v1.x & v2.x don’t really count and MS-DOS turned relatively stable after v2.1. The antivi— oh, forget it.

After all these years, why couldn’t Syman­tec re­lease a Vista up­grade in tan­dem with Vista’s delayed debut? The answer may be “some­thing deep is going on here.” Some­thing the anti­virus in­dustry doesn’t really want to talk about…

Yes, we saw a recent hullabaloo of full page ads and yes, we heard the hubristic CEO speeches. The antivirus industry insists Team Redmond “failed” to support their altruistic Herculean pre-release efforts to secure a Microsoft product. But we’ve always seen and heard this from the antivirus industry in one form or another. “Hey, let’s recycle this old press release where we moaned about native antivirus support in MS-DOS 5.0…”

If I recall correctly, Symantec and McAfee always seemed to keep pace with Microsoft before Vista. Come now: does my memory fail me here? Did I forget about a time when Symantec or McAfee didn’t release a timely upgrade for MS-DOS or Windows 3.x or Windows 95 or Microsoft Bob or Windows ME or Windows 2000 or Windows XP or Windows 2003? Have I forgotten the many atrocities that befell mankind when two software vendors couldn’t match Bill Gates’ aggressive product release schedule?

I dismiss the antivirus industry’s hubris as a standard PR-driven whine fest … and/or an effort to misdirect the public.

Let’s ignore McAfee for a moment. We know for a fact Symantec worked for years on Vista’s security back in the day when Microsoft called it the “Longhorn project.” We know this because, years ago at a global Virus Bulletin conference, Symantec gave a hoity-toity speech on all of the new types of malware they feared would debut with Redmond’s new operating system. Kern’s complaint demands we ask: “after all these years, why couldn’t Symantec release a Vista upgrade in tandem with Vista’s delayed debut?”

The answer may be “something deep is going on here.” Something the antivirus industry doesn’t really want to talk about. So let’s obey “Occam’s Razor,” shave off the PR bluster, and look for a succinct answer.

News reports tell us Microsoft hired away enough of McAfee’s “brain trust” to cripple them. I surmise the same thing happened to Symantec. This would explain why Symantec couldn’t move fast enough to meet Vista’s delayed debut.

Let’s ignore McAfee for another moment. Suppose Microsoft lobotomized Symantec enough to cripple their product development efforts. Who deserves the real blame here? Microsoft, for draining Symantec’s IQ? Or Symantec, for failing to meet its shareholders’ expectations of profit?

The answer: “neither.” (You thought I’d say “Symantec,” didn’t you?) If Symantec or McAfee suffered a brain drain, then I’ll blame the individual virus experts who jumped ship for a Microsoft paycheck.

You need only attend one virus conference to see the many people who trumpet themselves as beleaguered labcoat scientists who struggle valiantly in an uphill battle to save mankind from the ravages of Osama bin Virus.

But those halcyon days have long passed. Like the altruistic Seth Brundel in “The Fly,” each day the mirror reveals a slightly more grotesque reflection of an antivirus employee. One day, their heroism gives way to greed. Finally, the mirror reveals they’ve morphed into Tony Montana in “Scarface.” (Or John McAfee. Take your pick.)

Virus experts who jump ship no longer see it as an effort to protect society. These days, “it’s all about the benjamins, baby.” And society suffers for it. Kern might need to wait for a major Vista virus to come along before he sees that antivirus upgrade he’s looking for…