If you've ever bid at auction on eBay, you'll recognize this analogy right quick. You've spent hours finding just the right Pez dispenser to display on your fireplace mantle. Researched its retail value. Placed your bid. Seen no one else expressing interest. And finally, repainted your living room to match the dispenser's exact shade of turquoise, certain that it was to be yours. Then, with 3.2 seconds remaining before your bid would have won, somebody completely unexpected swooped in and beat your bid by a nickel -- and all your hard work came to naught. You'd been "sniped."
That's essentially what happened to would-be buyers of soon-to-IPO Internet antivirus specialist Sybari Software, which was slated to inherit the ticker SYBS some time this week. At the last instant, the great rifleman from Redmond, Microsoft
Sybari wasn't the only target that Microsoft hit, however. Its winning shot at Sybari also wounded the twin (erstwhile?) dominators of the Internet security market: Symantec
Investors and analysts alike interpreted Microsoft's latest buy as proof positive that the software giant is serious about dominating the Internet security market. However, it's perhaps worth taking a step back here, away from the crowd of cheering Wall Street brokers, and reminding investors about how this security market came about. Namely, from a need to plug holes in Microsoft's dominant, but less-than-waterproof Windows operating system, which boasts all the water-repelling prowess of a slice of Swiss cheese. (When's the last time you heard of Apple's
A dispassionate observer should be able to agree that Microsoft appears devoted to buying security companies (GeCAD, Giant, and now Sybari) -- yet at the same time recall that Microsoft's devotion to providing actual security to its users has been, shall we say, curvaceous (as opposed to unswerving). A dispassionate observer might also point out that there's an awful lot of hoopla being raised today over the buyout of a company that yesterday was just a 220-odd person shop, boasting under $50 million worth of 2004 sales and no profits.
Dispassionate Fools, therefore, should keep all that in mind before gambling that even an acquisition by Microsoft will make Sybari into a match for McAfee and Symantec: 9,000 employees strong, with $3.3 billion in combined annual revenue and $750 million in annual profits.
For more on Microsoft's newfound devotion to security, read:
- Symantec Better Than Its Word
- Software Firms Struggle With Upload
- Is Microsoft Infected?
- Redmond Giveth; Redmond Taketh Away
- Symantec Slammed
Fool contributor Rich Smith has no position in any of the companies mentioned in this article.