Y2K bug delays anti-virus system

Despite strong sales driven by a triple whammy of computer virus outbreaks this spring, PC protection software maker Symantec is debating whether to go ahead with plans to release its next-generation anti-virus solution, the Digital Immune System, this winter.The reason: A different sort of bug -- the Y2K bug.

Despite strong sales driven by a triple whammy of computer virus outbreaks this spring, PC protection software maker Symantec is debating whether to go ahead with plans to release its next-generation anti-virus solution, the Digital Immune System, this winter.

The reason: A different sort of bug -- the Y2K bug.

"What we don't want to do is make a lot of noise about shipping a product at a time when the customer is least likely to buy it," said newly installed Symantec president, chairman and CEO, John Thompson, who expected that the millenium bug will dampen corporate purchases of new systems and services.

The Digital Immune System is a network service created by IBM Corp.'s research and development arm. The service analyses any virus that attacks a computer on the network and produces and distributes a fix in minutes. The system comes at a time when faster response times are necessary to combat viruses like Melissa and ExploreZip, which spread extremely quickly using e-mail this last spring. "The virus outbreaks have raised the awareness of the corporate culture and it has certainly driven an increase in volume activity," said Thompson. "We think the outbreaks have been well managed, but candidly we have been a benefactor."

According to Thompson, the debate over the Digital Immune System has created a "brouhaha" within the company over whether the boost in anti-virus software sales will translate into more customers willing to buy into Symantec's service.

Rob Enderle, an analyst for technology watcher Giga Information Group, thinks a delay is a good idea. "This fourth quarter will be especially difficult because everyone will be looking out for the Y2K bug," he said. "Fourth quarters usually aren't easy in any event."

While the first component of the digital immune system -- a virus scanner for corporate networks -- has already gone into testing, it may head back to development to be beefed up, if a delay is called for.

In other news, Symantec announced its acquisition of Hampton, Virginia-based URLabs, a provider of server security and e-mail scanning tecnology. Thompson has also said he has taken stock of the company in his first 60 days, deciding to move into two new areas: Content security on the Internet and remote management of non-PC devices.

The company will also release its Q2 earnings today, after the close of Wall Street. First Call estimates the company will report $0.44 earnings per share.

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