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The History of many companies repeats itself

By:David K. Every
©Copyright 1999

This story is my opinion about what has happened at Symantec -- this is only MY opinion. But don't think it applies just to them -- I've seen this same pattern of bad management at many companies -- so Symantec is not alone (I am just using them as an example). I think this reflects more on American Management techniques.

I sincerely hope this Article can get the attention of their management, and get them thinking (for a change) about their decisions. Reputations are easy to get, and hard to lose -- they've earned a very bad one.

Symantec has become the Novell of the 90's.

What do I mean by that? Novell has a long, proud (?), history, of buying other people's products that they were too incompetent to develop themselves. Then they slowly killed those products. Finally (in the best case) they sold those products / divisions off for a fraction of what they were worth (when they got them), or they just letting the competition eat their market and destroy the products completely. While the competition was beating them, their management was blaming others for their incompetence.

So lets look at how brilliantly Symantec is following in Novell's footsteps.

Development Tools

There are a few different areas of a company as large as Symantec. One of their largest divisions (in the past) was their Development Tools.

ThinkC/C++ and Think Pascal

In the mid 80's there was a great product called LightspeedPascal and LightspeedC, that were renamed to ThinkPascal and ThinkC for legal reasons. They were small, light efficient development environments and most people loved those products. Symantec didn't try to out-develop those products -- even though they had the size and resources to do so. If they did that, it would have shown that they had a commitment, and they would have developed an expertise in the market. Instead their management wanted to take the quicker path -- so they acquired (1).

(1) In engineering there are no shortcuts. You usually do it right, or you do it over (at more cost). You can buy a product, but you can not be sure what you are buying. Usually you get a jump-start on development -- but you haven't learned what it takes to develop or maintain that product. If you aren't really good at keeping the people who created those products happy, then you will often loose the expertise (staff) that made the product what it was in the first place -- and since you haven't spent the time creating the expertise, once they leave, the product will usually fail.

So Symantec acquired Think Products. They had far more resources than the previous owner, and they set off making the "new" versions.

The first version of Symantec's development tools was a modest gain over the previous version. It had more features, but it was buggier. Symantec promised to fix all the new bugs, "soon". Whenever a company does this (release products with lots of features and lots of new bugs), you can start to look for a trend in management philosophy -- "Do they care more about real quality, or cheap features that they can market easily?". They may want to sell you the sizzle -- but it turns out not to be a steak that's been cooking. Companies that do this seem to assume that their customers are too stupid to figure this out, and I guess Microsoft products prove that this is often the case (2). However, developers are pretty savvy to this game, and the least likely to be duped.

(2) Many executives naively think that because it works for Microsoft, it will work for them. I guess they just don't realize that they are not Microsoft; blessed by the press, having a Billion dollar name, and Billions of dollars of resources behind them. Also most seem to forget that they don't have a reputation of sticking with a product and wearing down the competition, at any cost, until they win -- which is what allows Microsoft to win in the first place.

Think 6.0 came out years later, and it was worse than previous versions. Again, more features, but many more bugs -- and they failed to fix the bugs from the last version. Really bad sign. One of the things Symantec broke was called the "Standard I/O Libraries" -- after years they were still not working in 6.0. They are called standard libraries for a reason! Even if Mac programmers don't use them as much as PC programmers do, they are very important -- but Symantec didn't seem to care. Symantec's tech support made all the right noises on the phone -- but after a couple of years things still weren't fixed. I'm sure their engineers could have easily fixed it, IF their management had set it as a priority. Developers were getting annoyed (and there were plenty of other things wrong). They were setting themselves up for a fall.


Apple wanted to work on a Cross-Platform Development Framework in about '92-'93. This fit in with Apple's Strategy for OpenDoc and Taligent. Symantec was doing something along the same lines, and so Apple and Symantec decided to team up. It was a catastrophe because of the politics. Certainly Apple was not innocent in all this, but Symantec's management never realized how advantageous this deal could have been, if they had made it work. But while Apple was trying to make the libraries work with SOM and OpenDoc, Symantec was trying to make it COM and OLE based (which most Mac Programmers had no interest in).

The end result was after much hype, the project flopped -- hard. This was a loss for Apple, but Apple did turn around and use much of the code developed for the project in OpenDoc (ODF) and some in later versions of MacApp and so on. Symantec doesn't seem to have done anything with it, and poured money into a pit -- then couldn't capitalize on what they had (as usual). Furthermore, they had far more to gain if they had been more accommodating of Apple's goals. Remember, this would have given them a two or three year jump on either Sun and Java or the NeXT buyout (remember, Apple bought NeXT for OpenStep -- which was a cross platform development framework as was Bedrock). So Apple was probably wrong, Symantec management was more wrong and blew many millions of dollars because of their arrogance and incompetence.


Apple came out with PowerPC's -- after years and years of development. Symantec literally had 3 or more years to get their tools in shape for this transition, but when the PowerMacs finally came out, was Symantec ready with their compilers? Answer: "Not even close". (3) Symantec fell on their faces.

(3) The first thing to know about computer software is that early adopters of technologies gain the market share. Every developer understands this. Late adopters are considered stragglers that have lost momentum. Unless they release an AWESOME product, that eclipses the competition, they lose momentum.

While Symantec was failing to invest in their product, support the PowerPC, fix their bugs, and live up to the responsibilities (that they have to their customers) -- a company that was 1/100th their size (Metrowerks) was starting from scratch (creating a compiler from the ground up). Soon, Metrowerks released a better product; that was much faster, produced better code, and they did it on time (years before Symantec finished their PPC stuff). Metrowerks started eating Symantec's lunch (market), and they had less help from Apple (than Symantec), they had less resources -- including less; money, programmers, and they did not have a fully featured product to start from. What they did was focus on ENGINEERING a product, and knowing and serving their customers -- and they got a product out. CodeWarrior stormed the market, and because the company valued engineers and treated them well, they got many of Symantec's best engineers to boot (who were only too glad to move to a company that knew engineering).

Now Symantec at this point could have easily gone and started putting money and resources into their product -- and engineered their way out. It took YEARS for CodeWarrior to really take over their market completely, and a good response by Symantec would have stopped the gain (even with the bad blood caused by Symantec). Lucky for Metrowerks no one in Symantec management had a clue about engineering or their customers. The halfhearted attempts were obvious, and their market share slowly evaporated. Then, just to make sure that Symantec had burned their bridges, Symantec Management dropped C and C++ development for the Mac. Which is telling their few remaining customers that they didn't value them enough to further their products, or live up to their commitments.

Now management had all sorts of rationalization for their bad decisions. Management said things like --

  • We weren't making any money on upgrades anymore -- True, because Symantec wasn't giving the customers what they wanted, and the customer lack of enthusiasm towards their inferior products was reflecting management's inability to listen and develop.
  • Mac market wasn't profitable anymore -- Only for Symantec, other companies (like Metrowerks) were able to make plenty of money in that market. So it only wasn't profitable under their management policies because of their scorched earth, screw the customer, short-term thinking, and because they wouldn't invest the money to engineer well (and the customers knew it).
  • Our customers are at fault for leaving us -- Management is at fault for not listening to their customers and giving them what they want, and for not beating Metrowerks. It wasn't like it was a fair fight either, Symantec had a huge head start and had every advantage (money, code, developers, a 10 year head start). David beat Goliath, because Goliath was too stupid to fight. Imagine the audacity (and stupidity) to blame the customers or the marketplace, when other companies can thrive with less resources.

Well, that was only one product. Maybe it was not all for naught, if management learned something from their mistakes. You hope that when someone blows millions of dollars on a learning experience (wasted code and effort), that at least they can gain something from it.

Instead, management said they would focus on Java Tools. Yeah, right -- just like they focused well on Pascal, C and C++. The problem is that they burned everyone involved in their last products, and the market does not forget this quickly. Their history is going to taint every product in their future.  

Java Tools

Symantec wasn't going to abandon the Mac Tools market completely. They were just going to "refocus" on Java -- that was a submarket that Metrowerks wasn't putting as much effort in, so maybe Symantec stood a chance.

The first version came out, and I used it. It was Symantec's usual approach -- a lot of glitz and features, but a lot of bugs as well. The User-Interface was not that good (kinda quirky and PC like, too much glitz not enough function). One of the bugs they had was that when you removed the project file, the IDE (program) would go out and delete ALL of your source files (for that project) as well. Then it would wipe the disk so you couldn't recover them with Symantec's other tool (Norton Utilities). Imagine my surprise when it purged 12 hours of my work! Not a minor bug. This let me know how much they value quality.

It sometimes takes time to get the kinks out, and I would be patient and wait until 2.0 came out. I understand the complexities of a product, and can forgive even one error this bad. When 2.0 finally came out, it had more features, and they had even fixed some of the bugs, but the interface was still weird (nonstandard). To make matters worse, the Windows version had a very important feature that the Mac did not -- a feature that could have really helped them gain in the Mac market. It was called Native-Java (or compiling Java to run as a native Application on the platform). Symantec was once again telling me, the customer, that as a Mac users, I was not that important to them -- and that they valued the PC customers more. This is not a way to gain back my acceptance.

A quick resolution of that problem may have have minimized the damage. Instead, Symantec updated the Windows Version to 2.1 (no Mac upgrade). Then they came out with Version 2.5 for Windows -- which was a far more significant update (again no Mac upgrade). Who wants to place bets that version 3.0 of Visual Cafe comes out for Windows and there will be no mention of the Mac? Even if it is released, someday, they have made their priorities extremely clear -- and so will I.

More damaging to Symantec is that they still haven't come out with Native-Java. Meanwhile, their competitor (Metrowerks) has. With the animosity Symantec has created by their past incompetence, and with the good will given towards Metrowerks because of their past competence, I think Symantec is out of the Mac Development Tools market completely. Something I'm sure they will blame Apple or their customers for (if history is any guide).

Recently, I helped make a decision on what Java Development tool to choose, and I chose someone other than Symantec. Not just because I couldn't trust Symantec to stick behind their products (though that helped). Not just because I knew that Symantec would cut and run at the first sign of competition (though I know that too). I made the decision because the competition was beating them again.
  • In the PC market space -- IBM's Visual Age for Java is a far superior product.
  • In the Mac market space Metrowerks Java was nearly as good, and more standard -- before they released Native Java. Now they have Native Java, and I (and most developers) already get that product for free (because we already own it for our Pascal/C/C++ development). Symantec's tools would have to be far better to add real value -- and they aren't. And if I want to mix Java, C/C++ and Pascal, I have to own CodeWarrior anyway.

Think Reference

The one great developer tool was ThinkReference. It was a great little utility for developers -- allowing them to look up information that was in many different Apple Reference Books. Symantec made the database proprietary, wouldn't let others use it, and they didn't keep up with the times or expand it for years -- eventually they killed it with negligence. Instead of earning goodwill and a positive reputation, they thought short term, and added to their growing negative reputation.


Another Division of Symantec was their Applications Division. Now lest you think it is only their development tools that they screwed up on, read on.


Another link in the long chain of Symantec Products being bought from other companies, and killed by Symantec. There was a neat outlining product called "More". They had bought that product (off of Dave Winer), at a huge cost to themselves -- but they failed to develop it. A couple years in, and that product was dead too. I'm sure they blamed the customers on that fiasco as well - but remember, this was the premier outliner, that many Mac Users loved. It won awards, it made sales, and they had one of the most devoted customer bases out there -- and I know people that STILL use it and love it, even though it hasn't been fixed or improved in 8+(?) years.

What happened? Basically, Microsoft offered a cheapo integrated outliner in MS-Word, as did ClarisWorks, and some other small outliner products came out. Instead of adding value, or waiting for some other products to die out, Symantec walked away from their customers. No investing in the product, nor putting it into maintenance mode (and keeping the product available), Symantec just killed it off. They just couldn't hack the competition.


There was an award winning cross platform scheduler, that I believe Symantec bought off another company. It was pretty cool, and the same things happened. They revised it, added lots of features (and some bugs and quirks). They've been revising the Windows Version (for now)-- but I have stopped work on the Mac! Version 4.0 of Act, came out on the Windows platform -- no Mac upgrade. I think the Mac version is being silently killed. I'm sure management sees the lack of sales (on the Mac side) as justification for killing the product -- all while failing to realize that for sales to happen, they must release and market products. Another tombstone in the Symantec graveyard.


There was a bit of a battle for the "Works" market -- the home "Office" type packages that could do a little of everything. Before ClarisWorks, there was another package, GreatWorks. Of course, it was bought out by Symantec, and of course it lasted a year or two. ClarisWorks came out, and they folded up their bags and went home. Too bad for customers, many loved the package.

Visual Page

Now another product is biting the dust. The Mac version of Visual Page. This is a good HTML editor, but it has been dying on the vine.

In Symantec's usual style, they came late to the game -- and the rumor is that they bought the product from someone else (after a small bidding war with MS). A year or more after PageMill (Adobe) and ClarisHomePage were on the market, Symantec released Visual Page. But they didn't really advertise it much, and they haven't done anything to get the attention of customer. Combined with the legacy of their bad name, what is supposed to make that product sell?

Still, I am savvy, so I noticed their product, and tried it out. It worked well, and I like it. However, in the time that it took Claris to go from 1.1, to 2.0, to 3.0, Symantec has given their customers -- nothing. (It was precisely for this reason that I chose to use HomePage over Visual Page -- well, that and Visual Page was not available when I started making my site). For Visual Page, it has been a year and a half of waiting -- and we still don't know when to expect the upgrade. Adobe (who is not quick at development) is transitioning from 2.0 to 3.0 -- yet, I am still waiting for Symantec. I is a complex issue, and I'm sure there are lots of reasons (excuses) -- but that misses the bigger point. Symantec, as usual, is slow to release, slow to upgrade and isn't doing much to support further development of their products. I, as a customer, can't trust them. They offered a product that had no substantial added value or hooks over the competition (worth mentioning). They keep their customers in the dark. Then they get mad at customers because sales don't go through the roof -- and so they kill the product. Why am I supposed to by a Symantec Product again?!


Symantec started in the software industry by making utilities -- and this was their strong suit. In fact their made most of their name in the Mac Market -- but they seem to have forgotten where they came from. So the most important Division of Symantec is their Utilities Division.

NOTE: I don't know how Symantec organizes their company. Developer Tools, Applications and Utilities is just my own logical grouping of their products -- somehow, I suspect that their organization is more complex and political.

Fifth Generation

In the spirit of eating you competition, Symantec ate Fifth Generation Software. This company had many award winning, and excellent products -- before the acquisition. Unfortunately, they read as a "where are they now?" list.

Disk Doubler and AutoDoubler: These products were the award winning compression products of their day. Symantec killed them by failing to update them (losing most of their installed base). Then when Mac OS 8 came out, Symantec said they would not take the time to update the software so that it could run on Mac OS 8 -- even though their remaining customers were clamoring for it (and had been using the woefully out-of-date products for a while). Symantec's response to customer complaints was publicly stating things like, "Well, hard drives are cheap, so just go buy another drive!". This is basically telling your customers, "You shouldn't be using our product! Get lost! What is wrong with you!?"

Rumors are that Aladdin (makers of Stuffit) wanted to buy the AutoDoubler/DiskDoubler format (and possibly code) so they could keep the technology alive. Symantec rejected it -- they don't like competition -- even for products they are going to kill.

Jukebox 5: A $99 hardware/software utility to do floppy duplication. Symantec didn't know what to do with it -- it died.

Public Utilities: When Symantec acquired Fifth Generation Software, they also got a product called Public Utilities, Many loved this products -- so it was killed.

InBox: Another Fifth Generation Software product was InBox. In a rare decision, this got sold off -- to TOPS, and it got assimilated there.

SuperLaserSpool: It was a really neat utility for sharing (spooling) to a laser printer. Notice I use the past tense.

Suitcase: The last product of the Fifth Generation buyout by Symantec, was Suitcase. This was the most popular font management tool on the Mac. Have you heard about it lately? It still exists, barely. Under Symantec it had been neglected for years. Finally, it was bought by Extensis -- and a product that was going to die under Symatecs care is selling well and making money for another company.

GUM - Guy's Utilities for the Macs (PowerBooks)

Guy Kawasaki sponsored development of a small package called, appropriately enough, "Guy's Utilities for Mac (PowerBooks)". They were a few different small utilities that helped PowerBook users with Power management, file consolidation and so on. Neat tools, and portable users loved them. Then Symantec bought them -- it didn't last 6 months.


Symantec acquired Delrina Software, which made well loved Faxing Software (called Delrina Fax, FaxPro and so on). I don't think any of those products lasted a year.

Central Point

If you can't beat 'em, buy 'em -- then kill them. Another eaten company was Central Point Software. They were a very popular Mac Company, and had some of the best utilities out there. This acquisition seems to generate the most anger to this day.

MacTools: This was an amazingly Popular Mac utility. MacTools was in many ways a superior product, and people still use it to this day to recover things that they can't fix with Norton. One of the best features is that when you recovered files, it could put them in a copy of the original file hierarchy -- Norton still doesn't do that. Symantec didn't even try to maintain the product or incorporate most features. They killed it. Other companies tried to buy MacTools, but Symantec didn't want the competition. Instead, they gave users the "option" of upgrading to NUM. I'm sure that soothed a lot of feelings, "Since you chose the competitors product over ours, we've crushed them. Now you can choose our product or screw off!" Just warms the cockles of my heart.

Snooper: A small Mac utility that Symantec got with the Central Point Software purchase was called "snooper". Not only wouldn't Symantec further this product, but again they wouldn't sell it off to interested parties. Symantec was killing products, but wouldn't let others buy them-- they didn't want the competition. This was very frustrating to customers and developers. If Symantec wouldn't further the product why wouldn't they allow the market to exist at all ?

SAM - Symantec Anti-Virus (for Mac)

Another acquisition(?). Fortunately because there is no real changes in the Mac market (few new viruses), this product has survived a while -- but I suspect this is only because it doesn't require many updates Still, they could be improving the product with little effort, and taking their time to do it right. Yet, not visible progress is being made. Not only is it buggy, but it has been 4 years+ since the PowerPC, and they still haven't made SAM intercept native. I suspect they will wait for a competitor (Virex) to start beating them (by engineering), and then Symantec will likely just fold up their table and go home.

SUM - Symantec Utilities (for Mac)

Symantec Utilities was really the flagship product for years. I seem to remember they bought this product off another small company (and changed the name from "MacZAP!" or "Zip Tools") -- but I don't remember the company (it's been a decade). SUM was a pretty good product, originally, but under Symantec it was slowly getting its market share eaten by Norton Utilities. Both products had advantages, and many people had both -- but overall, Norton seemed to have its finger on the pulse of its customers more. Symantec put a stop to that! They bought out Norton (the whole company).

Once Symantec owned both halves of the market share what did they do? Both products were selling well, and customers liked each product for different reasons -- and they were developed in two different locations. They could have made a fortune by keeping both products (and leaving development alone). So they decided to be "efficient", and merge the products -- and kill off SUM. This pissed off half of their customer base, but sometimes that is the right choice (just not in this case) (4).

(4) For the record, it is rumored to have been part of their deal with Norton to kill off the other product. I think Norton knew that this was the only way their product would survive a year or more.

NUM - Norton Utilities (for Mac)

Symantec didn't worry about killing off SUM, because they still had NUM (Norton). They just forced their users to switch (whether they like it or not). Since the Norton division was left alone (and run like a separate company), they've survived for years. But slowly, through being unresponsive, and failing to improve their product, they are building animosity between them and their customers that they have left. It seems that Symantec's management is slowly taking over (or infecting) that division as well. All while a small company (Micromat) is working diligently on a Utility (TechTool) that may eat Norton's lunch.

What is Symantec management's response? When 8.0 came out it took many months for Symantec to upgrade it (they had known about MacOS 8 for years, and the changes required were minor). Their attitudes towards users caused animosity. Now it is months after the release of MacOS 8.1 and its new File Format HFS+ (5). Symantec still hasn't released a version of Norton Utilities that works with it, and they still haven't told their customers when to expect it. They missed the big opportunity for upgrade revenues, and for building product momentum, WHEN 8.1 WAS RELEASED! I suspect management (and the press) will blame "the Macs declining market share" as the reason for Symantec's poor Mac revenues -- I suspect it has something to do with not having products that work with the latest version of the OS, but that's just me.

(5) HFS+ is a far bigger change for Norton than most. It is also rumored that Symantec is doing a major rewrite. But they haven't communicated well to users. Also that is a fairly lame excuse for delays since developers have known HFS+ was coming for years (literally 3 or 4). During this time regular developers had partial (but fairly complete) information about the format. I was given some of the basics in '94, and Symantec is privy to a lot more information than most.

Maybe their management will just make excuses about not having enough money or resources to QA a product, or engineer one -- all while companies a fraction their size (Micromat) can manage to do so! Sounds like a rerun of their Developer Tools fiasco's. Either way, Symantec is telling me (the Customer) time and time again, that they don't care about my concerns. What they seem to forget is that many customers have elephantine memories, and that many of their customers are cross platform users.


I really feel sorry for Symantec employees, who are losing jobs (and pride) because of bad decisions from above. How many good people do they have to lose before they catch on? I empathize with their Mac Engineers the most (that's what I do), and I imagine they are pulling their hair out while trying to get management to give them the resources they need to get their jobs done (I've been there). Ironically, they are probably the ones that are blamed for management's lack of focus and follow-through -- even though this kind of incompetence can only come from the top (like Mr. Eubanks himself -- or at least he is responsible for not stopping it!). Of course I am also more than a little pissed at their management for killing all these high quality products with their incompetence. Maybe Symantec's management thinks that they are punishing the users by denying themselves our money. Maybe they think they are focusing on core markets by forgetting where they came from, and by having no follow through. I don't know -- but I do know there are a lot of lessons to be learned by all of this.

I will still buy Symantec products -- if they save me time. But they have a history of dropping so many products that I can only afford to buy their products if they have no substantial learning curve, or serious investment. I can't afford to do otherwise -- am I going to seriously spend a few hundred dollars, or a few thousands dollars of my time, all learning a product that Symantec may drop on a whim? Not on your life. Symantec has taught me that I can't trust them.

Sadly, I think that their management will go on blaming me (the customer) for their incompetence, and continue to follow in the footsteps of Novell.

Remember, since I don't work at Symantec, this as an outsiders opinion. But I've known or talked with people who work(ed) there (about 20 or so), and I've been one of their customers for many years, and I've watched their keystone cops act (in management) for a decade now. More annoying than any of this, is that they are hurting my industry by; killing off good products one-by-one, giving the press ammo to bash Macs, and setting a bad example as a development company.

I was worried that this article was way too long. Imagine my surprise at hundreds of emails from people who had read it in detail. Talk about striking a nerve! I have never seen such an outpouring of customer frustration, across so many different products, as I've seen with this Symantec article. There are a LOT of pissed off people out there.

Since running this article, I've received literally 150+ emails. Everyone was killing me with kindness, and telling me their favorite Mac Product that was killed by Symantec. Or their favorite feature, that was removed from a Symantec product without warning. Or support horror stories, and so on.

Quite a few Symantec Employees (ex or current) sent me letters of thanks, along with minor additions, corrections or feedback. More than a few employees have floated the hypothesis that Gordon Eubanks (or other high-ups) are trying to pay Apple back by killing all their products. Geeze, that's cynical, even for me. Besides, Symantec's incompetence predates those slights.

I got one flame -- someone who said that I was an idiot, and didn't know what I was talking about. But I have yet to have written a single article that hasn't got at least one flame. So thankfully this guy made sure that this article was no exception. ;-)

Thanks to all those that care so much about quality products, and about the Mac in general.

Created: 03/12/98
Updated: 11/09/02

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