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Microsoft Sets Security Applications Free

So, OneCare is dead, but Microsoft's effort to be a security vendor is still alive. Sort of. Microsoft will replace OneCare next year with a set of free security applications. Or maybe Microsoft will finally just take steps to secure its own applications the way users have wanted it to for a long time. In any case, there's the potential for trouble in all this.

The immediate reaction from many observers has been to suggest that Morro, the code name for OneCare's free successor, will be lawsuit bait for Symantec and McAfee -- you know, those companies that have made a living doing what Microsoft wouldn't or couldn't to secure Windows -- and antitrust regulation fodder for the ravenous European Union.

Redmond has already started the spin machine, suggesting that rivals' products will still be way better than Morro, which will just be a simple set of tools for people who won't pay for anti-virus, anyway. Symantec and friends, whose stock prices took a hit on the Morro news (not that they were alone in seeing share prices fall this week), predictably played Morro as being no big deal.

And it probably isn't. First of all, Microsoft isn't going to introduce anything that might even seem like a legitimate Symantec killer. There are lots of reasons for this, but let's just confine ourselves for now to saying that Microsoft likely won't want to throw another meaty bone to the EU regulation dogs.

Folks in Redmond have learned a lot from their various battles with government regulators, and their attempts to slide in and take over markets aren't as blatant as they used to be. Plus, Microsoft has a right -- a responsibility, really -- to provide some level of basic security. And making it free actually seems less monopolistic and more customer-friendly than making people pay for it.

But that leaves open, of course, greater questions: Where will Microsoft's security efforts stop? And where should they stop? Symantec and McAfee, among others, won't go away if Microsoft seriously decides to shore up its products on its own; the big security vendors have huge businesses these days that go way beyond making Windows work. So why shouldn't Microsoft improve built-in security for its own application infrastructure? Most users would probably say that it should -- and should have a long time ago.

That's not to say that Microsoft won't eventually try a more significant security land grab -- there is, after all, a hosted security suite on the way -- but for now, Morro seems pretty innocuous. Whether rivals, regulators and the industry will see it that way is another matter.

Posted by Lee Pender on 11/20/2008 at 1:22 PM


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