Symantec considering Gdrive alternative

Symantec Corp. is toying with the idea of delivering a new service that would allow users to automatically back up digital files to the Web, according to Symantec Chairman and Chief Executive Officer John Thompson.

The Cupertino, California, software vendor has been developing the backup capability as part of its upcoming Genesis security and PC-tuning service. But on a Tuesday conference call with financial analysts, Thompson said that Symantec may offer the backup service as a separate product.

Online storage has become a hot topic in the past few months. Google Inc. is rumored to be developing a storage service called Gdrive that would make things like digital photos and music accessible from any PC. And earlier this month Microsoft Corp. said that it is developing a similar technology, dubbed Live Drive.

Microsoft came up with the idea of combining backup, PC tuning and security features into one product. These features will be added to Microsoft's OneCare service, expected next month. And while competitive pressure has forced Symantec to add the backup service to project Genesis, analysts say it isn't yet known whether it makes sense to combine backup and security.

"It isn't clear to me that backup is really the thing that people are going to be buying," said Andrew Jaquith, senior analyst with The Yankee Group in Boston. "I think Symantec is probably wise to keep their plans open about how they sell it."

Symantec is also being forced to re-think its products as the nature of security threats has changed.

"Between 2002 and 2004 there were almost 100 medium-to-high-severity viruses," Thompson said. "In calendar year 2005, there were only six."

With these high-profile attacks no longer creating as much demand for its basic antivirus products, Symantec is now developing new products, such as Genesis, that will place more emphasis on threats such as identity theft and fraud, Thompson said.

A beta version of Genesis will be available by the end of September, and while the service is expected to ship by year's end, that date may be pushed back until March 2007, to avoid conflicting with a refresh of Symantec's stand-alone security products, Thompson said.

New versions of Norton Antivirus and Norton Internet Security are expected by September and the Genesis team is evaluating whether the end of the year is "the right product introduction time," Thompson said.

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