For decades, Symantec and McAfee have fostered a tit-for-tat rivalry that makes the old Hatfields and McCoys feud look tame by comparison. Though Symantec is the bigger player in the security market due to the popularity of its anti-virus software, McAfee has persevered as a much smaller but potent No. 2.
"Both McAfee and Symantec have at times leapfrogged each other," says Bill Trussell, managing director of security research at consultancy TheInfoPro. "Symantec gets into data-loss prevention, McAfee plays catch-up. McAfee gets into data encryption, later Symantec makes that move."
About two decades ago, McAfee and Symantec each started building up businesses around desktop antivirus software, eventually expanding into other security segments. Symantec also broadened into storage, backup and management tools and services with the acquisitions of Veritas and Altiris.
Over time, Trussell says, there's been shown to be this underlying principle that "markets work better when there's a strong No. 2 player," adding that the McAfee vs. Symantec security rivalry can be likened to another classic argument of the business world: "Coke vs. Pepsi."
Enterprise customers in particular love pitting one vendor against the other, Trussell notes, seeking to drive down prices, even though research done by the TheInfoPro suggests there's less abandonment of one security firm for the other than you might think.
One reason that the smaller McAfee has held on to its following, at least in business, was McAfee's decision years back to centralise management of its growing security portfolio around its ePolicy Orchestrator management console, Trussell points out. "People who use McAfee products like it."
Constant product comparisons are part of McAfee and Symantec's long competitive tradition. If you read on McAfee's website an analysis entitled "McAfee Total Protection for Enterprise vs. Symantec Endpoint Protection," you can also go read "Symantec Endpoint Protection 10.0 vs. McAfee Total Protection for Endpoint" on Symantec's website.
The still-intense McAfee vs. Symantec sparring has seeped into the corporate culture of each firm, with McAfee execs referring with a sneer to Symantec as "Yellow" (after the yellow Symantec logo) and Symantec execs known to condescendingly call McAfee "that nice little company." In a New York Times interview on the rivalry topic, Symantec CEO Enrique Salem did not even deign to single McAfee out at all but simply lumped McAfee in with six other competitors, saying, “It is really Symantec and the seven dwarfs."
One of those so-called "dwarfs," Trend Micro, often ranked the No.3 player in the security software market based on its traditional roots in antivirus software, says the perspective is somewhat different outside the United States.
"From a US perspective, the rivalry is intense," says Tom Miller, executive vice president of US sales and marketing for Trend Micro. "The US security market grew as a land grab at the endpoint," and McAfee and Symantec today "own the vast majority of that. All the expansion of their value proposition is still connected to the endpoint story." But the situation isn't necessarily the same in other parts of the world such as Japan, where Trend Micro holds about 80% of the enterprise market, he pointed out, adding it's still a battle to demonstrate technological innovation and effectiveness.