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Anti-Virus Offering Sparks Reader Debate

The Security Essentials beta led readers to offer plenty of criticism, but most is directed at third-party anti-virus vendors, not at Microsoft.

Microsoft takes a lot of heat about the security of its Windows operating systems. So in June, when the company released a beta of its free anti-virus application, Security Essentials, it wasn't surprising that Redmond readers began responding to the launch with criticism.

What is surprising is where readers are directing many of their barbs. Instead of accusing Microsoft of trying to freeze smaller companies out of the anti-virus market or wondering why Microsoft hasn't done a better job of protecting Windows all along, many readers point plaintive fingers at third-party anti-virus vendors. Some of those vendors, such as Symantec Corp., have complained about Microsoft's effort to develop a free anti-virus offering, as well as Redmond's very entry into the anti-virus market.

Anti-Virus Shake-Up
"Symantec should be upset," says Russ Alexander, an exchange admin based in California. "Their products are expensive, bloated and apparently designed to be invasive. I see Symantec and immediately look elsewhere. I welcome the free anti-virus tool from Microsoft."

Reader Daniel Sullivan, president of Concept Dynamics Ltd., in McHenry, Ill., offers a similar sentiment. "Microsoft has as much right to the market as anyone else," Sullivan says. "Most of the mainstream anti-virus vendors have created monsters that chew up machine resources, fail to update properly, incompletely uninstall and otherwise would be known as malware. It's high time that someone created a low-impact, well-architected anti-virus solution. I don't much care if it's Microsoft or someone else."

Another reader, R. Oglesby, a network administrator also based in California, continues the theme. "Symantec needs to take a chill pill," he says. "I, for one, am not opposed to a fresh perspective on anti-virus, and if it's free, even better."

And there's even more from Philip Colmer, a reader from the United Kingdom. "I've replaced one fairly major anti-virus tool on my main [Windows] Vista machine with the [Security Essentials] beta, and I'm happy so far," Colmer says. "It's time the existing anti-virus companies had a bit of a shake-up."

An anti-virus shake-up seems to be a popular notion among readers.

"If the other vendors are so good, why are they opposed to Microsoft coming to play in their world?" asks James Moreland, field service engineer at NEC Infrontia Inc. in Shelton, Conn.

But there's more to readers' reactions to Security Essentials than just bitterness about incumbent anti-virus vendors. Other readers praise Microsoft for making anti-virus capabilities readily available to a broad swath of users. "Many people don't have anti-virus software on their computers. [Security Essentials] could be good," says John McCoy, CEO of McCoy Consulting in Murray, Utah.

Reader Tim Holm, manager of Windows infrastructure solutions and support for Applied Materials Inc. in Santa Clara, Calif., agrees that the market should be able to choose the best anti-virus offering. However, he warns that Security Essentials might be in for a tough test. "Microsoft has the biggest bull's-eye on its back," Holm says. "I believe [Security Essentials] will become a hacker target like no other Microsoft product because of the nature of the product."

Questioning Microsoft
Although many readers slam third-party vendors, others target Microsoft. "Microsoft is raising the white flag and admitting that they produce an insecure OS," says Greg Bedard, a Windows system administrator in Peabody, Mass. "These anti-virus companies saved Microsoft all these years with their tools-helping protect Microsoft's unsecured products. As far as I'm concerned, 'Microsoft security' is an oxymoron," he adds.

Brian L. Hayes, network administrator at Certified Languages International in Portland, Ore., echoes this sentiment. "Microsoft could've been protecting its OS since the second release of Windows 98 and chose not to," he says. "Why now? Is Microsoft trying to make the public believe that anti-virus is so insignificant that it should be free?"

Still, some readers don't see any reason to complain at all. Says C. Marc Wagner, services development specialist at Indiana University: "As long as Microsoft doesn't bundle [Security Essentials] with the OS, they have as much right as [anti-virus vendors] to offer a free solution. And OEMs can still throw in a trial version of whatever they want!"

About the Author

Lee Pender is the executive features editor of Redmond magazine. You can reach him at lpender@redmondmag.com or follow him on Twitter.

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