OPINION

Leopard vs. Vista, Brazil vs. Cisco, True Security Horror Story, Product of the Week

We are on final countdown to the launch of Mac OS X Leopard.

You’ll see lots of feature head-to-head pieces start to ramp up, but the real difference is that Vista is from an engineering-driven company while Leopard is from a marketing-driven company — and that is worth exploring this week.

Last week, Cisco had a serious problem in Brazil that, given how ethical Cisco has historically been, serves as a caution to anyone doing business in one of the emerging markets where corruption isn’t the exception but the rule.

I was at a conference last week where I heard what is likely one of the scariest — especially if you are in charge of corporate security — stories I’ve ever heard.

Given this is right before Halloween, I figured I’d share the fear. You may want to make sure the lights are turned up for this tale.

Finally, we’ll look at our product of the week; a security offering that can help prevent your company from being the victim in the next Halloween-like zombie attack.

Leopard vs. Vista: Marketing vs. Engineering

Every company has its strengths and weaknesses. In this regard, Apple and Microsoft are almost polar opposites.

Apple is very strong on marketing but generally not as strong on the aspects of its platform which have kept Microsoft dominant in the PC space. The market is clearly changing and trending, if the iPhone and iPod are any indications, toward Apple’s strengths.

However, Apple has been bleeding a lot of people. Palm is now largely being run by ex-Apple folks, Dell just took a big infusion of ex-Apple folks, and HP’s marketing in a number of areas is driven by ex-Apple as well.

This makes me increasingly wonder, much like I did more than a decade ago when IBM was bleeding people, whether Apple can continue to execute at the high level that has defined it so far this decade.

With the Leopard launch, we will get a sense of whether Apple is on its game. Going into this week, much like it was prior to Vista’s launch, there was little in the way of measurable demand for Leopard.

However I’m already seeing demand generation pieces start to show up on the Apple fan sites which appear to be driven by Apple PR, and as I finished this piece I saw some of the mainstream sites start to pick up the 300 new features hype. This is part of the traditional Apple product ramp.

The real push, however, should start this week, and the Leopard launch comes close enough to the Vista launch for us to be able to draw parallels once the product has been made available.

I’m not expecting Leopard to belly-flop, but I wonder if Apple’s focus on Windows compatibility this round may come back to haunt it because the Apple loyalists — who typically are a large portion of initial demand — don’t value that as highly as other things (particularly eye candy).

In any case, recall that much of Vista marketing was focused on the name and, assuming Apple executes traditionally, most of the Apple marketing will be focused on simply conveying benefits and reasons to buy.

We’ll revisit this post-launch but think this is worth watching for the lesson and to gauge Apple’s long term health and ability to execute. Early indicators, at least with Leopard, were looking good last week.

Cisco vs. Brazil

I got a call late one night last week from a reporter working the story that a large number of Cisco executives had been arrested and that a Brazilian law enforcement team was looking to arrest a number of senior Cisco executives in the US.

This story was largely driven by disclosures from the Brazilian authorities who, apparently, had inflated the Cisco exposure significantly.

Cisco is one of the most historically ethical companies in the segment. It hasn’t had the problems with financial reporting and stock option post-dating that many other companies have had in the technology market. Also, Cisco has a reputation for being tough competitively but generally a straight shooter.

I think what has happened reflects more on the dangers of doing business in one of the emerging markets than it does on Cisco at this time. Brazil is listed as one of the 15 most corrupt countries in the world. In places like this, you can never truly know what is motivating law enforcement. This news should make most of us feel thankful that corruption where we live is the exception, rather than the rule, which appears to apply in most developing countries.

This will be interesting to watch develop because Cisco’s executive team probably won’t have much of a sense of humor with regard to this and the company is reasonably well connected politically. Given this is an election year and both parties are finding it hard to talk about things that don’t make both look bad, a little nationalistic focus on Cisco’s behalf — should the charges prove unfounded — might play well to the conservative and liberal bases. This could backfire rather badly on Brazil.

We don’t know all of the facts yet, but this one stinks — particularly the way the news was released and the fact that the arrests apparently preceded discovery. That many of the arrests were done at a large company celebration in front of friends and family makes it look personal.

Scary Halloween Security Story

I was at the Guilder/Forbes conference in New York, a conference for large investors that showcases companies on the fast track to success, and before my session the following story was shared:

Beginning about three years ago, and for two-and-half years, a bot master worked on penetrating a very large company. Always keeping well below the threshold for the in-place security systems, this guy compromised almost every computer in the company.

This external entity accessed financial information, read e-mails, got a hold of virtually every part of that company — even things the executives didn’t know about. Then, memos went out to all employees who weren’t on the senior executive team, HR or finance — who would have known they were bogus — saying the firm was making a big structural change with massive layoffs.

The employees were asked to click on a link and enter personal information in order to participate in an outplacement program. This included all of the information that would be needed for a direct deposit of severance and clearly was more than enough to steal the employees’ identities.

By the time executive management and security were aware of the problem thousands of employees had been compromised and the phishing site, evidently located in Eastern Europe, was gone.

Slowly turning every PC into a financial information-sucking zombie has to be the closest thing to a real Halloween story I’ve ever heard in IT. To top it off, the near-magical disappearance of the phishing server only lacks the smell of sulfur and brimstone to make truly one for Halloween.

This tale also supports what Symantec has been saying for some time that this botnet problem is incredibly nasty.

Product of the Week

Given this scary story — and trust me, I used to have corporate security responsibility, this is one scary story — the product of the week is Norton Anti-Bot.

Symantec created this product after internal studies indicated that no pre-existing anti-virus product was capable of dealing with the polymorphic bots that are starting to infect our machines. Even the best existing product only got 6 percent rating, according to Norton labs, whose own offering at the time didn’t even get that much.

So Symantec went back to the drawing board and created the Van Helsing of anti-bot products and brought it to life. With a cry of “It’s alive!” the engineers had created a tool that could take care of these hell-spawned, zombie-making beasts.

The equivalent of a cross, garlic and holy water (or maybe a lobo, since we are talking zombies and not vampires), if the devil is in your PC, pick up Norton Anti-Bot and get the number of that beast.

Have a great Halloween!


Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.


1 Comment

  • Huh??? I think that you have this all backwards. The problem is that Microsoft is the marketing company and Apple the engineering one. This is why the Mac OS has had a hard time succeeding. Apple spends an inordinate amount of effort on design and usability – these are engineering issues not marketing ones. Microsoft does just the opposite. Efforts are designed to keep users in the "fold". That is a marketing issue.

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