So says the New York Times. The story is that longtime security company McAfee, not a close second, in the market share calculations, is tired of playing second fiddle to industry leader Symantec, who holds a bit over half of the market.

As I stated yesterday, Symantec has built its base largely upon the name recognition of the once fine, Peter Norton Computing, that it purchased some time ago. Symantec has been able to continue its dominant position largely because of the deals it has struck with OEM PC manufacturers, and because the corporate drones who choose protection software remember that Peter Norton was once the original personal computer guru.

The stakes are huge: millions of global followers willing to donate a steady sum every year for protection against online threats.

Recently, the competition between the two has become fiercer, as both have tried to get their software tied to more new personal computers, Web sites and Internet service providers. McAfee has been particularly aggressive, using a string of deals with large PC makers in a bid to usurp Symantec’s leadership position.

“It’s like an arms race,” said Albert A. Pimentel, the chief financial officer of McAfee, who goes by the pugilistic nickname Rocky. Security companies must constantly persuade customers and partners to renew subscriptions or switch from a competitor with similar products.

For years, McAfee served as a self-defeating also-ran, cleaning up the scraps left by Symantec. The company, based in Santa Clara, suffered from a decade of legal and accounting problems that left it in poor competitive shape, and employee morale low.

Things, however, have changed in the last two years since David G. DeWalt left his post as head of sales at the storage company EMC to run McAfee, succeeding George Samenuk, who stepped down in a stock-option backdating scandal. Under Mr. DeWalt, the company has expanded well beyond antivirus software, acquired some niche security players and increased sales to consumers and large businesses.

McAfee is poised to overtake Symantec next year in sales to the business market if current trends hold.

For my part, I hope this does hold true. To me, Symantec is a company who, like Microsoft (and there is probably no other company that can be paralleled this way so effectively), purchases its products and then puts a Symantec flavor on it. When the company isn’t doing that, it purchases promising, or possibly temporarily faltering, competitors, and buries them. No doubt other companies do this also, but not so many nearly as well as Symantec.

Remember XTree software? Purchased by Symantec, and, after a lackluster attempt at bringing a Windows version to market, buried the project, never to be heard from again. If you remember XTree, you must also remember PC Tools.  No, not the current PC Tools, the once fine set of utilities developed by Central Point Software, in Oregon. These were a set of tools, similar to Norton Utilities, that were in a race, release by release, with Norton, to bring the very best tools for repair and maintenance to the PC user. I always had both, because, though there was much overlap, each differed enough to be worth the purchase. Central Point was bought and buried by Symantec, and Norton Utilities have never been the same.

Certainly there are other products that do the job that Symantec’s products do, they are simply not funded as well, or have the same name recognition. For example, I have known about McAfee for many years, and have used their products, but with the free choices available, there was no reason to purchase anything else. (Does anyone else remember the days when having an antivirus  running in the background was not de rigeur?)

You might also remember the attempts by McAfee, to gain notoriety, by releasing the Stinger free modules, to combat specific problems in a timeframe. These were good, and worked well, but really gained the company no traction.

Symantec, based in Cupertino, Calif., remains the overall security market leader, with just about double the market share of McAfee, according to the research firm Gartner.

In the consumer market, Symantec holds an even larger lead, with 52 percent share and $1.8 billion in revenue last year, compared with 18 percent of the market and $624 million in revenue for McAfee. A host of smaller players like Trend Micro, CA and Kaspersky Lab round out the field.

It’s hard to believe that there are so many companies whose said purpose is ridding the public of things that should never exist.

“It is really Symantec and the seven dwarfs,” said Enrique T. Salem, the chief executive of Symantec.

In a bold and somewhat risky bid to raise its stature with consumers, McAfee has tried to win over PC makers with something they all like: lots of cash. In the last year, it spent $55 million, more than any of its rivals, to get McAfee security software preloaded onto new computers. It now counts Dell, Acer, Toshiba, Sony and Lenovo as partners.

“We are shipping on twice as many computers as the year prior,” Mr. DeWalt said.

Up to 40 percent of all computers bought by consumers this year will include McAfee’s software, the brokerage firm Jefferies & Company estimates.

It’s up to McAfee not to blow this incursion into our homes and PCs, by making sure that the product works well, and gets updated at all the right times. Also, it must not slow the system appreciably, or consume too much memory – this will be especially important on machines that are running low-end processors, like netbooks, and any desktops that also run the Intel Atom processor.

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The greatest mistake you can make is to be continually fearing you will make one.–  Elbert Hubbard

– no relation to L. Ron Hubbard, who said “The greatest mistake you can make is to not believe in Xinu.”

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