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Industry Consolidation Continues

Will this never stop? Symantec and Central Point, perhaps the two largest utility manufacturers, have announced that they plan to merge in a stock swap valued at $60 million. That’s turnips compared to the Aldus/Adobe merger, or Novell’s purchase of WordPerfect and Quattro Pro, but it remains indicative of the industry trend toward fewer and larger companies that can squash competition through sheer marketing force. The merged company will have annual revenues of about $265 million and control about 60 percent of the utility market.

In fact, the merger isn’t surprising given Symantec’s strategy of competition through acquisition. At this point, I couldn’t even tell you which programs originated with Symantec and which were purchased along the way. Central Point marketed various programs that competed with those from Symantec’s Peter Norton Group, and swallowing them, as Symantec earlier swallowed competing programs from Fifth Generation Systems, serves primarily to confuse the user. With the exception of 911 Utilities (is it even still around?), Symantec now owns all of the major disk recovery utility software for the Macintosh, and you have to wonder how many packages it will keep on the market.

Far more alarming was Robert X. Cringely’s speculation in this week’s InfoWorld that Lotus has its eye on buying Novell. It seems that Novell stock dipped 40 percent after the WordPerfect acquisition, and according to Cringely, Lotus just sent out a proxy statement to shareholders asking to issue more shares of stock. That could mean that Lotus wants to raise some cash to go shopping for Novell. Even if Lotus did manage to purchase Novell, the company’s combined revenues would only be around $3 billion, still well below Microsoft’s $3.75 billion. However, with Lotus in charge, we Mac folks would have to think seriously about rooting for such a company on even a gut level – Lotus has continually screwed up Macintosh products and recently announced that it would not develop programs for the Power Macs, other than client software for cc:Mail and Notes. No matter whether you love or hate Microsoft, at least Microsoft has shipped Macintosh software since the early days.

At this point, I have only one piece of advice for computer companies: Watch out for Beatrice – eventually, everything is owned by Beatrice.

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