The head of Symantec said he’s encouraged by recent statements from Microsoft that it plans to work with security software companies and provide them with more access to the Windows Vista operating system.
Symantec and other security companies have been complaining recently that steps being taken by the software giant in the name of security would actually hamper their ability to compete with Microsoft's recently launched antivirus software.
"The fact that they have made very positive moves is an encouragement," Symantec chief executive officer John Thompson told reporters at a briefing in Tokyo. "But we have to see them follow through on the statements that they have made."
The chief target among the complaints is PatchGuard, a kernel protection technology in the 64-bit version of Windows Vista. PatchGuard would stop modification of the kernel by third parties - including security vendors like Symantec. The security companies say it would put them at a disadvantage because they would not be able to offer certain technologies for virus detection and intrusion prevention that require modifications made to the kernel.
The security vendors also want the ability to switch off alerts from Windows Security Center because they fear they would duplicate those from their own software and confuse users.
"Innovation around the Windows platform has required that security companies have unfettered access to the kernel and when [Microsoft] delivers the 64-bit version of Vista we want to make sure that we have similar access, principally because we believe innovation requires that. And innovation is necessary in the security world if we are going to stay one step ahead of the bad guys," Thompson said.
"Unfettered access" was the same phrase used by George Samenuk, the chairman and chief executive officer of McAfee, in a full-page newspaper ad headlined "Microsoft increasing security risk with Vista" that the company ran last month in the Financial Times.
In the last couple of weeks Microsoft has begun responding by providing APIs (application programming interfaces) to allow security vendors to turn off certain features and has also held meetings on the issue of kernel access. The company acquiesced in part after pressure from the European Commission to level the playing field in the security market.
Thompson said Symantec had been contacted by the European Union and other antitrust regulators.
"We have been in communications with EU, the Fair Trade Commission here in Japan, the fair trade commissions in other countries, who are interested the behaviour of Microsoft, specifically as it relates to security technologies," he said.
He said Symantec is "certainly not going to rule out any possibility at this point" regarding the filing of a complaint against Microsoft, but that recent moves by Microsoft are welcome.