Was Veritas sleeping with the enemy?

I had planned to write about another topic this week, but it will have to wait --recent news has me revisiting Symantec and its storage machinations.

The lawsuit was a surprise because, just like anyone else who has ever touched Windows Disk Management, I knew that Veritas code had been behind those management applications since last century.

How I got to know is kind of fuzzy -- after all, we're talking about events from probably 10 years ago. So I did a little research with the Internet Archive Wayback Machine to dig out the original press release.

Even after scraping off all the love the two vendors were pouring over each other at that time, I still can't tell from that document if Symantec's action has any legal ground ... unless, of course, you take literally the numerous mentions of Windows NT 4.0, which was at the time the spearhead of Microsoft's strategy to enter the enterprise server market.

I haven't seen the real agreement between the two vendors, but let's assume that it contains essentially the same references to Windows NT 4.0 without ever mentioning something like "and future operating systems."

A punctilious judge could interpret that as an intent to limit the use of Veritas technology to just that version of the Microsoft OS, which would outlaw deployment in its successors, including Windows XP, Windows Server 2003, and Vista -- exactly what Symantec is claiming, isn't it?

Someone with a better legal mind than mine will have to sort that out, but I find Symantec's timing very interesting. It's not easy to think of a pachyderm like Microsoft as a "vulnerable" party (after all, Bill & Co. has come out unscathed from more challenging legal battles), but let's face it -- one of the worst possible times for a legal action is when a vendor is readying releases of major versions of its desktop and server OSes.

Did a confused -- and maybe less aggressive -- Veritas really let Microsoft extend over several years an improper use of the licensed technology to popular products such as Windows XP and Windows Server 2003? Hard to believe, but still possible.

It's worth noting, however, that many things have changed dramatically since 1996. For example, although Microsoft at that time had little or no presence in storage, the company has since become a serious contender in many storage markets, some of which -- such as storage management, continuous data protection, multipath device access, de-duplication, and others -- are strategic to the new Symantec.

Moreover, Microsoft is also becoming more aggressive in domains that Symantec may consider its own development turf, such as security and systems management. Is the lawsuit just an expedient measure by Symantec to slow down a threatening adversary, even though it knows that the Veritas part of its soul has been sleeping with that enemy for years?

Unfortunately, it will take time to address these questions, and we may never have complete and satisfactory answers. In the end, money will probably solve this quarrel, as it has so many others.

Regardless, I hope that the litigation will end soon and that neither of the two vendors will have to carry a heavy monetary burden; that burden will almost certainly be passed on to their customers as price increases on products or services. No matter who wins the Symantec vs. Microsoft legal dispute, you and I will lose.

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