Could Symantec’s lawsuit result in another Windows Vista delay?

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Could Symantec's lawsuit result in another Windows Vista delay?

Cupertino (CA) – A complaint filed in federal court in Seattle yesterday by Symantec seeks to block the future distribution and sale of Windows Vista, pending an arrangement between the company and Microsoft over extending the terms of a license regarding a key device driver.

The device in question is called Logical Volume Manager. Specifically, it is a key storage device virtualization driver. There are multiple interpretations of LVM, some of which may even be in the public domain, though Veritas Software Corp. was well-known to be a leading provider of a high-end implementation. This LVM is currently licensed (unless mitigating circumstances prove otherwise) to Hewlett-Packard for use in HP-UX, and to Red Hat and IBM, among others, for their respective implementations of Linux. Microsoft was another long-time Veritas licensee, using LVM in Windows since the 1990s.

In 2005, Veritas and Symantec completed a merger in 2005, in a deal valued at $13.5 billion. Gary L. Bloom, Veritas’ chairman, president, and CEO, became vice chairman of the new Symantec, in what was supposed to symbolize a true merger of corporate resources and interests. But last January, Bloom announced his exit from the company in March, stating that now that the transition period was complete, it was time for him to seek other challenges.

Now, Symantec asks that Microsoft stop using any and all Symantec intellectual property – a request whose implications could transcend LVM, and conceivably extend to anti-malware techniques licensed from Symantec since the days of Windows 95. It could also potentially jeopardize the two companies’ “gold certified partnership,” in the interests of which Symantec supplies storage management tools created by Veritas for Microsoft customers, especially for SQL Server.

In its complaint, Symantec said Microsoft’s continued use of LVM and other Symantec IP “has irreparably harmed Symantec and constitutes trade secret misappropriation.” In an interview, a member of Symantec’s legal team alleged that Microsoft used the code from a “light” version of LVM, which was licensed to Microsoft and used in Windows 98 and Windows 2000, in an unlicensed implementation that appeared in Windows Server 2003. This implementation, counsel contends, competes with a commercial Symantec product originally developed by Veritas, called Storage Foundation for Windows.

Research shows that operating systems that use light volume manager implementations, while leaving open the possibility of replacement with heavyweight commercial alternatives, is not out of the ordinary. This Veritas white paper (in PDF format) explicitly describes the use of a “base” logical volume manager for HP-UX, called VxVM, which is actually designed to be replaceable by Veritas’ commercial Foundation Suite components, including Volume Manager 3.5. A link to Storage Foundation for Windows continues to appear on Microsoft’s partners pages for Windows Server 2003.

So while the question could be raised of a possible injunction against Microsoft’s sale of Windows Vista, at least until the matter of LVM licensing is sorted out, a potentially broader question could also be raised of whether Microsoft is the final target of possible Symantec legal action.

Last October, a Goldman Sachs analyst revealed that Symantec had been a supplier of information to the European Commission, in its ongoing antitrust investigation against Microsoft. At that time, we asked a Symantec spokesperson what kind of information the EC might need about Microsoft, that it couldn’t get by going to Microsoft instead of Symantec. The spokesperson’s response included this sentence: “As we’ve said in the past, we will compete with Microsoft in the markets, not in the courts as long as there is a level playing field.” One wonders when the effectiveness of this statement may have expired. Symantec has been approached for comment on this story, as has Microsoft, and both may yet respond.