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"One of the things my team and I get paid to do is to think about where markets are going and what customer needs are likely to be; to try to anticipate that and move in that direction," he says. "That's clearly what we were doing with the Veritas transaction. Could we have done a better job of articulating the why more clearly, more concisely, more frequently and with greater vigor and zeal? No question about it. But because we were first movers, because we were far ahead of conventional wisdom, people tend to react more negatively. But, that's OK. We're certainly prepared to stick to our knitting, to stick to our beliefs and philosophies and move forward from there."

Jon Oltsik, senior analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group, believes the chance Thompson took with the Veritas deal appears to be paying off.

"It's been a big job integrating two $5 billion-plus companies. It's been overwhelming. [Symantec has] taken a lot of heat on this, and the upside has taken a while to emerge," Oltsik says. "Storage, security and data management are headed down the same path, and Symantec has been a pioneer [in this market]. It's all in the enterprise risk management area. There's more upside than downside, and I think you're seeing that now with the EMC and RSA deal."

Gordon Eubanks, Thompson's predecessor as CEO, knows a bit about integrating large acquisitions and pushing a company through often painful transitions. Eubanks says that managing such changes is all about having a clear goal and executing on the moves necessary to achieve it, regardless of outside praise or criticism.

"When the market is leveling, big players get into it and you have to make a change, the key is to pick an area where you can be successful, there's growth and you can be a leader," Eubanks says. "It isn't good enough to say that the market is big and, if I just get 10 percent of it, I'll be OK. That's a losing strategy. It never works because you don't have the scope and the scale. [Symantec] can't just stay where it is. That won't go on forever against Microsoft, and John knows that. He's a very smart, prepared and capable guy."

While customers and analysts like the direction Symantec is headed, there are still a number of challenges ahead for the company. Not the least of these is the looming specter of Microsoft and its OneCare security suite. OneCare is available now as an on-demand service for consumers, and it will be an integral part of Windows Vista. The offering includes both antivirus and antispyware software, placing it squarely in the path of the most lucrative part of Symantec's portfolio.

But it likely will be some time before OneCare makes much of a dent in the market, thanks to the large leads that Symantec, McAfee and others have on the desktop.

"Symantec definitely has a challenge from Microsoft on the desktop, but it's going to be more slow and steady than people think," Oltsik says. "I think Symantec is better off than people think. It's going to take enterprises in particular a long time to upgrade to Vista."

This was first published in November 2006

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