Microsoft has long annoyed security software makers over the last decade as it has rolled out free products which often offer a competitive alternative to competitor's packaged software free-of-charge. Microsoft merely offered a decently competitive product for a much cheaper price -- free.
With its firewall and antispyware (Windows Defender) built into Vista, business for private firewall software already has taken a hit. Now in a move that is sure to make Trend Micro, McAffee, Norton, and other security software makers lose sleep; Microsoft has announced that in 2009, it will offer free antivirus software.
To understand this new announcement, a quick trip down memory lane is in order.
Microsoft first entered the antivirus software business in 1992 with its Microsoft Anti-Virus product, which it contracted to Central Point Inc. (later acquired by Symantec). The software was designed for Microsoft DOS 6.0 through 6.22 and could detect an impressive 1,234 viruses. Unfortunately, there were no updates available, though a 1996 pack brought the total up to 2,371 viruses. Embarrassingly, the software though the Windows 95 installer file was a virus.
After the mixed reviews of Microsoft A-V, Microsoft left the business until 2005 when it released betas of Windows Live OneCare. The suite combined antivirus software with a tune-up utility, a stronger firewall, and a file backup utility. The bundle was made commercially available May 31, 2006. Subsequent Live OneCare 1.5, 2.0, and 2.5 have also hit the market since, with the 2.5 iteration debuting in July 3 of this year.
Arriving in the present, Microsoft has announced it is axing the subscription based antivirus software business and will offer its antivirus tools for free. The new suite is codenamed "Morro" and will available in the second half of 2009. Microsoft describes the software as a "streamlined solution" and states, "[Morro] will provide comprehensive protection from malware including viruses, spyware, rootkits and trojans. This new solution, to be offered at no charge to consumers, will be architected for a smaller footprint that will use fewer computing resources, making it ideal for low-bandwidth scenarios or less powerful PCs."
The latter portion appears to be a clear nod to Windows efforts to push for a leaner footprint from top-to-bottom, a major focus of Windows 7 (which has been subject to recent doubts).
Microsoft will discontinue the OneCare subscription service June 30, 2009, but customers should fret not -- they will soon receive virtually the same solution entirely for free.
Amy Barzdukas, senior director of product management for the Online Services and Windows Division at Microsoft states, "Customers around the world have told us that they need comprehensive, ongoing protection from new and existing threats, and we take that concern seriously. This new, no-cost offering will give us the ability to protect an even greater number of consumers, especially in markets where the growth of new PC purchases is outpaced only by the growth of malware."
Microsoft has acknowledged that the suite may not contain some of the extra non-security utilities such as tune up and printer sharing available in some commercial antivirus solutions. However, when it comes to its core AV product it brags that its malware engine has garnered many awards already, including the VB100 award from Virus Bulletin, Checkmark Certification from West Coast Labs and certification from the International Computer Security Association Labs. Microsoft has made great strides in security, besting a Mac machine and tying a Linux box at a recent hacker conference.
The new software will be available for Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7. Microsoft plans to integrate it with the upcoming Internet Explorer 8 browser which features many security enhancements including the much talked about "Porn Mode".