IT Week Opinion
IT piranhas leave punters up the creek


IT giants often swallow up smaller rivals and acquire cutting-edge tools, but do their customers always benefit, asks Guy Kewney.

IT Week Opinion

American companies have a habit that baffles many observers. How can it make commercial sense to buy technology better than your own, and then suppress it?

How many promising software companies have we not seen swallowed up by Symantec? Once it was a distant leader in desktop applications, far ahead of Microsoft, but now it no longer has a retail word processor or spreadsheet. In fact, the only time I’m likely to hear an IT professional mention Symantec, is when they typically say: “Oh, you’re running Norton Anti-Virus? No wonder your PC is slow.”

And remember how MacAfee bought Dr Solomon because its antivirus software was luring away customers? And how MacAfee then closed down all Dr Solly’s good developments, and created a market for firms like Grisoft and Sophos?

So when Sybase took over Xcellenet, all my alarm bells went off. Xcellenet makes easily the best corporate management tools for mobile devices. Owners of PDAs and laptops protected by Afaria and managed by Remoteware could leave the devices in a taxi, and be pretty sure that the things will automatically wipe all sensitive data off their own disks and memories – and that the critical corporate stuff is safely stored on a central server, ready to be restored onto a replacement device.

Senior staff at Xcellenet are cheerfully optimistic. At least, they say they are. They say they need the “developer market” which Sybase has; and that Sybase needs Xcellenet’s high profile with corporate IT admin – which is true enough.

But I wonder if Sybase has bought the firm for the profile, rather than the technology. It would make sense to purchase it for the technology. It would be rational. The question is: is rational the way US corporate takeovers are handled? Only rarely…

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