Why Symantec bought Appstream (not)

Why Symantec bought Appstream (not)

Summary: It's all too clear why Symantec is acquiring Appstream. But just imagine for a moment the company had a wider vision that could really challenge Microsoft's desktop dominance ...


Of course we all know the real reason why Symantec is acquiring AppStream — a move announced yesterday at its user conference in Las Vegas. Virtualization is hot and Symantec is big in systems management. AppStream helps round out its offerings for packaging and streaming virtualized software. It's as simple as that.

symantec logoJust for a moment, though, let's imagine Symantec is following a much broader vision — one that positions it to wrest control of the on-demand desktop from right under Microsoft's nose. I know this is the stuff of fantasy — it could only happen if Symantec were serious about SaaS. Sadly, Symantec's track record on this score is lamentable.

A year ago at SaaScon 2007, the company proudly unveiled its overarching strategy for capturing the SMB market for SaaS with the announcement of ... an online backup service. For a moment there, I thought I'd been transported back to 1998 and the early days of application service providers. There was talk at the time, admittedly, of this being just the first in a portfolio of SaaS offerings, and indeed, the range today also includes online archiving. But at a dollar-a-month per GB — more than six times the price of storage at Amazon S3 — it's hardly going to set the world on fire.

It would be much more exciting to round out the offering with, say, pay-as-you-go hosted Microsoft Office, delivered as a service for a low monthly subscription. An Appstream partner in the UK, Fasthosts, introduced such a service in February and, despite some initial squeals of protest from Microsoft, is still selling it today — with a bargain-basement starting price of £5 (around $10) per user per month.

Granted, such offerings still reek of ASP-dom, even though it would spark a few interesting headlines were a company the size of Symantec were to start offering MS Office on the same model as Fasthosts' more limited experiment. But where this desktop streaming capability becomes especially strategic is the potential to deliver any client-side application as a cloud-managed service. I discussed this upside when I first wrote about AppStream last March:

"... solutions like AppStream could become a saving grace for the future of SaaS in which ever-richer functionality, as well as cached data, is downloaded and stored on the client. So long as it's managed from the network and the user doesn't have to tangle with the technology, that seems like a neat compromise to me. Indeed, it could even mean that I could log into and use any PC or other device wherever in the world I sat down in front of one, and I could have my apps and data streamed down to me just for that session."

This kind of serviced client concept is one that I first ascribed to Symantec back in early 2006 when it unveiled plans for a product codenamed Genesis — and which at the time I felt would help position it to battle Microsoft for control of the on-demand desktop. In its final guise as Norton 360, however, Genesis hasn't lived up to its early billing as a fully on-demand offering.

Indeed, it's clear from looking back over the past couple of years that Symantec has consistently dropped the ball on SaaS. That's why I'm confident its acquisition of Appstream — despite the undoubted potential — won't in the end have any great impact on the SaaS world, either.

Topics: Cloud, Emerging Tech, Security

Phil Wainewright

About Phil Wainewright

Since 1998, Phil Wainewright has been a thought leader in cloud computing as a blogger, analyst and consultant.

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  • WGA has made all these 3rd party guys obsolete!

    The Death of 3rd Party Security Vultures and Such!
    McAfee Inc., Trend Micro Inc., CA Inc. and especially
    Symantec, ... say goodnight! We are about to announce MS
    ForeFront 2.0!
    Let me make it clear that while I have tolerated these
    "anti-virus" vendors for years, something about their very
    existence has not set very well with me. I mean, having a
    bunch of multi-million dollar companies that depend
    solely on there being bugs, leaks, holes, exploitables,
    mistakes, oversights and problems in Windows dosen't
    speak very well of Microsoft. They are like carrion,
    buzzards, jackels, ... protecting a rotten carcass from
    other smaller vermin. They always argue, "But, Bu-bu-but
    you need us!", maybe that was true in the past, but no
    None of these quacks bag of tricks are any longer
    Between WGA and Forefront the OS and Genuine MS apps
    are totally impervious to attack! They are so secure that
    many times even the registered owners have trouble
    gaining access to the computer! So then how could any
    These vultures will kick, choke and whine as the user-base
    realizes this truth, but I say good riddance, your success
    reflected badly on us anyway.

    • are you kidding me

      ((totally impervious to attack))-- what a laugh every can and will be attack

      ((VISTA IS BULLETPROOF)) glee a other laugh-- vista is so not selling-- MS will have a other OS out before vista even catch on if it even can
  • RE: Why Symantec bought Appstream (not)

    How is this different from decades old terminal services or mainframe computing? One more MS killer buzzword seems to be unveiled.
    • Uhm....

      The point is, just in case you don't know, that the Application runs on the Client.

      Beyond that it's a (not so) basic question of various competing things as to where you put the processing power.

      If you put your thinking cap on then you might find the end game favours processing on the client side and, as a result, you will Stream the Application to the client.

      Quite simple really.

      Keith Mallen
  • I'm not sure

    I would take a guess that you may or may not be living in fear of Application Streaming. Just covering the bases.

    To me SaaS as done by SalesForce et al has only taken off because someone had the idea of delivering programs that give people what they need to get the job done..

    The method of delivery is via a Browser using Flash/Java/Ajax/Silverlight. I'll guess that that is largely because that is where it is at or where the Marketeers want it to be.

    Recently we get the people doing what I'll call WEB2.0 SaaS making an effort to come up with development platforms to support their 'Vision'. Again those platforms will give the people what they need to get the job done.

    My problem might be that, if I was good enough, I could bypass the tie in to Flash and the rest and do what is being offered using an established 'real' programming language that works out of the box and already has all the fruity bits in it and sorted.

    Focussed applications. Dumbed down Platform for users to make their own.... Then I can deliver my solution via Streaming.

    Mind you, I could be being a luddite.

    Keith Mallen
    • Here we go....


      OK so I don't know how 'proper' .NET is but the implication from that article is that...

      Here we go.... With a creative chop and paste.

      "That fact alone makes it more like Java. Silverlight applications can be self-contained on the client and don't require things like "browser postbacks" to server technology. That means full fledged applications like you see and develop on Windows are actually possible."

      I'll twist that to mean that Applications written in SilverLight under .NET (read the article) will easily translate to Applications that will run on Windows under .NET and, as a result, people can develop applications that can either run in a Browser, as a Fluffy Toy, or run BARE on the Client OS as a 'proper' program.

      Next break back you get is people might start using .NETified 'proper' programming languages if Silverlight does not deliver in certain areas for the opportunity to grab back some proven functionality.

      Next thing you know they will be back to adding in stuff that the .NET framework does not let them do so well and....

      Having boshed off running things in a browser, because it just happened. The next method of SaaS delivery is going to be Streaming.

      No more Fluffy Toys Any More
      No More Fluffy Toys Any More

      You have to pick the right tune though.

      Keith Mallen