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Symantec said Friday it's "focused" on delivering a response to Windows Live OneCare before the end of the year, but if a summer beta reveals problems that would delay the subscription service beyond November, it may hold the software until 2007.
Earlier reports seemed to indicate that the consumer security software service would likely not appear until well into next year.
"Our team is focused on product availability in the fall," countered Enrique Salem, Symantec's consumer group chief. "Where I have muddied the waters is that I've said I want to make sure we have some feedback on the beta before [we release]."
Norton 360 will include anti-virus, anti-spyware, anti-phishing, and anti-keylogger protection, as well as a personal firewall, PC tune-up utilities, local and online backup, and Web site authentication tools. Symantec announced the service in early February, but it's been beaten to market by Microsoft's OneCare, which went final three weeks ago at a price of $49.95 for three PC licenses.
"We are focused on the fall," repeated Salem several times, "but if gets to be a point where it doesn't make sense to release it this year" the company would hold the release until after the new year, he acknowledged.
As he had in a recent teleconference with reporters and financial analysts, Salem touted Norton 360's top-to-bottom set of security tools, its new attention to what he called "transaction security," and how it will stack up against Microsoft's OneCare.
"It's like comparing apples and oranges," Salem said. "There's no comparison with OneCare. When you see what we deliver [in 360] I think you'll see a big distinction."
Salem cited Symantec's brand awareness with consumers -- he claimed that 62 percent of all consumer security software spending was for Symantec products -- and users' concern over giving Microsoft control of their security software as two potent marketing weapons.
Symantec's better-known consumer security products -- Norton Internet Security and Norton AntiVirus are its biggest sellers -- will be refreshed to 2007 editions this fall, and will not be immediately dropped from the Cupertino, Calif. company's lineup, Salem promised. But the move toward software as a service is a done deal.
"I fully expect all software to move to electronic distribution at some point," he said. "The world is thinking much more about the notion of Web 2.0."
He also dismissed the idea that Symantec was lagging behind Microsoft. "This isn't new for us. We've been delivering security services to large ISPs for more than two years."
Last year, Symantec also modified the way it delivers changes to Norton Internet Security and Norton AntiVirus to shift toward a subscription model (and along the way, raised prices by as much as 33 percent for product renewals).
Details of Norton 360 remain sketchy, however. Salem wouldn't comment on the product's pricing, for instance, nor on the exact date that a public beta will be available.
Nor did he take Microsoft to the woodshed over its pricing of OneCare, an issue that's gotten attention this week as the head of a Florida security company posted price comparisons between OneCare, Symantec's Norton AntiVirus, and McAfee's VirusScan.
"Microsoft's prices may be pretty aggressive, but it's way too early to call certain tactics 'predatory.' We run promotions all the time, too. This may not be their final price," said Salem.