Today, AOL expects to release a beta version of Total Care, its soup-to-nuts security and PC performance software suite that will compete with similar all-in-one products from Microsoft, Symantec, and McAfee.
"The Internet is a confusing hostile place for anyone using a PC today," says Andrew Weinstein, an AOL spokesperson. Total Care, he says, is designed to make PC security simple and hassle-free.
Total Care will be available as a premium service to both AOL and non-AOL members when the final version is launched, but the free beta will be available to AOL members only. Pricing and a launch date for the final release of Total Care have not been announced.
The beta version of the suite will be available to AOL members through the company's beta.aol.com site.
All in One
The components of Total Care include virus, spyware, and phishing protection; a firewall; PC backup and remote PC backup capabilities; system tune-up utilities; online, on-site, and telephone tech support; PC rollback functionality; and identity theft protection. The beta release, however, will not include PC online backup functionality or phishing and ID theft protection, AOL says.
AOL is relying heavily on technology partners such as McAfee, which will provide pieces of the suite's antivirus and firewall technology. Other partners, including MarkMonitor, power the antiphishing component, while Iolo Technologies is behind the service's PC tune-up tools.
Not Members Only
This is AOL's first attempt to market a security suite that is available to the public, not just to its members. AOL already offers free antivirus, computer check-up, and firewall tools to its members via the AOL Safety and Security Center section of its AOL proprietary service. Weinstein says that Total Care will be far more robust than its previous tools were.
For example, the existing offerings do not include on-site PC tech support, which is available in Total Care through a partnership with Gurus2go. Total Care customers will be able to secure Gurus2go services at a reduced (but as yet unannounced) price. When obtained directly from Gurus2Go, the service costs $100 for the first hour of onsite support. Total Care will also include free chat-based and phone-based PC tech support options.
AOL watchers say that the release of the feature-rich Total Care is a smart move by the struggling online giant, which lost 850,000 members in the first quarter of 2006. AOL estimates that it currently has 24.5 million members worldwide, 18.6 million of whom are located in the United States.
"If AOL wants to stop losing customers and start attracting new ones it's going to have to offer compelling reasons," says Joe Laszlo, senior analyst with Jupiter Research.
New Threats, New Security Solutions
All three of these services take a more comprehensive approach, adding PC tune-up tools to their security offerings.
One reason for the move toward these types of suites: Today's PC hazards are multipronged and can't be defeated by virus protection alone, says Amrit Williams, research director for Gartner, a market research firm. Today's threats include adware, viruses, and phishing attacks that attempt to trick you into disclosing personal and financial information. The new, more-comprehensive security suites try to take the guesswork out of repairing PC vulnerabilities and poor PC performance.
AOL Could Shake Up Security Suite Battle
"PC maintenance is getting easier, cheaper, and more comprehensive," says Joe Wilcox, another senior analyst with Jupiter Research. Microsoft has put a lot of pressure on competing security vendors, including AOL, to offer cheaper, feature-rich products, he says.
Individuals can purchase a 12-month subscription to Microsoft's Windows Live OneCare for use on up to three PCs for $50 directly from Microsoft. AOL, McAfee, and Symantec won't discuss the pricing of their upcoming all-in-one PC health products.
Security software prices are forecast to drop even farther over the next year, as more ISPs offer protection from Internet threats for free or at a reduced price, Gartner's Williams says. "Security is something ISP customers are going to begin to expect for free," he says.
ISPs accounted for 14 percent of consumer sales of security software last year, up from 5 percent in 2005, Gartner reports. AOL and Comcast currently offer customers pieces of McAfee software for free. Qwest Communications recently threw in OneCare for free with its Internet service offerings.