When the credit market crashes, only the rich can afford to go shopping.

Meet one of the rich guys. Security software specialist Symantec (NASDAQ:SYMC) churned out over $1.5 billion of free cash flow on $6.1 billion in sales over the past year and can pay the interest on its reasonable debt about 27 times over from operating income. Symantec borrowed $2.1 billion in 2006 (back when credit terms were as sweet as candied plums) mostly to buy back $2.8 billion of its own stock. Other than that, the company hasn't borrowed much since 2002.

Symantec is buying privately held MessageLabs for $695 million in cash, divided into $154 million in true-blue dollars and the rest in British Pounds Sterling. MessageLabs is the market leader (around 30% market share) in the cloud-based messaging security space. Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) gobbled up Postini for $625 million last year to nab a 19% market share. Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Exchange Hosted Services and its 9% share stem from a similar acquisition in 2005. But it's not like Symantec is a newbie in the big kids' business pool.

After all, adding MessageLabs' centrally hosted services are a logical complement to Symantec's own hardware solutions for electronic messaging security. McAfee (NYSE:MFE) and Cisco Systems (NASDAQ:CSCO) are fighting Symantec for supremacy in that field.

The new kid is supposed to join Symantec's stable of products and services by the end of the year, bringing along $145 million in trailing sales with 20% year-over-year revenue growth. But the company tends to lose money rather than make it, so it will be up to Symantec to scale up the business model, integrate it with other offerings, and squeeze some tasty blood from this stone. That shouldn't be too hard given the intense interest in this market from the biggest boys in the software sandbox, along with the trendy software-as-a-service cloud computing cred.

This financial maelstrom sheds a whole new light on the mergers-and-acquisitions market. The targets -- especially publicly traded ones -- are getting ridiculously cheap, but only the cash-rich need bother with these opportunities.

So which Croesus will step up to the bar next, ordering a fresh shot of instant growth? Google and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), I'm looking at you. Cisco? Mr. Softy?

Bueller? Anyone?

Further Foolishness:

Symantec and Microsoft are Motley Fool Inside Value selections. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares in Google, but he holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. You can check out Anders' holdings or a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.