News this week that Microsoft is to discontinue sales of Sybari anti-virus software for Linux and Unix platforms, now that it has closed its acquisition of the company, is daft on so many levels. Here are the four biggest.
Microsoft announced it was buying Sybari for an undisclosed fee in February this year. It was Microsoft’s second anti-virus acquisition in 20 months, but it suggested a certain benevolence towards rival anti-virus companies.
That’s because Sybari is somewhat unusual as an anti-virus vendor in that it does not create its own virus definitions or scanning engines, but enables customers to choose multiple anti-virus packages from partners including Sophos, Computer Associates, Kaspersky Labs, VirusBuster and Norman. Microsoft looked to be protecting its relationships with those companies.
The idea is that anti-virus firms are unpredictable in their response times to new malware outbreaks, so companies can manage their risk more effectively by having two or more scanners, with Sybari’s Antigen tying them together.
So Sybari had had a pretty open stance towards other anti-virus companies. It was also open to offering its products on Windows, Unix and Linux platforms. Culturally, you get the picture of a pretty open company, a Switzerland, if you like, of the anti-virus world. Microsoft may just have trashed that culture by forcing the company to stop selling its software on Unix and Linux. Disregarding a company’s culture is a sure-fire way to make an acquisition fail.
Secondly, part of Sybari’s inherent value was its ability to support Windows, Unix and Linux. While Microsoft did not disclose the price it paid for Sybari, it’s just abandoned a chunk of its value, so Microsoft may have a big in-process R&D charge to write off associated with the discontinued platform support when it files its next accounts. That’s money down the drain.
Third, it’s turning its back on potential revenue from the Unix and Linux markets. Apart from the obvious drawback (some companies would argue any revenue is good revenue), anti-virus could be one area where Microsoft shows it is prepared to co-exist with Linux and Unix. After all, its BizTalk Server integration platform already has a Host Integration Server module that enables BizTalk to talk to IBM mainframe, AS/400 and other hosts, seeing the need for customers to get access to those back-end data sources – so why not be ambivalent in anti-virus too?
Finally, it sends a strong message to customers that Microsoft can help with security, but can only help in Windows environments. In the heterogeneous world in which we all now live, that is not a message that customers like to hear. Faced with a choice between heterogeneous security, or Windows-only security, which are customers likely to choose?