Microsoft's OneCare to Go Live Thursday

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Microsoft will complete its entry into the desktop security market next week with the general release of its Windows Live OneCare antivirus software.

OneCare, which also includes backup and PC-tuning software, has been available for free in beta form since November, but as of next Thursday customers will be able to purchase the final, supported product, according to sources familiar with Microsoft's plans.

OneCare will cost $49.95 per year, which will cover licenses for as many as three Windows XP PCs. That means "98 percent of homes in the U.S. will be able to buy one subscription and be able to cover all of their PCs," Microsoft Group Program Manager Brian Hall said in an interview earlier this year.

A spokesperson for Microsoft's public relations agency declined to comment for this story except to confirm that the product would be available for purchase from the Web and in retail stores in the next few weeks.

Three Apps in OneCare

OneCare includes firewall, antivirus, and backup software, as well as Microsoft's Windows Defender antispyware technology. The product also takes care of routine maintenance tasks such as defragmenting the hard disk and cleaning up unused temporary files.

Microsoft portrays OneCare as part of a new category of "PC care" products that handle technically challenging tasks. But analysts say that the product clearly targets the antivirus market, dominated by companies such as Symantec, McAfee, and Trend Micro.

"This is really competing head-on with the antivirus vendors," said Andrew Jaquith, senior analyst with Yankee Group Research.

Symantec Anxious

Market leader Symantec, which sued Microsoft last week claiming misappropriation of intellectual property, is clearly anxious about the software giant's entry into its market space.

Company executives have said that they expect to compete against Microsoft by offering superior technology and staying one step ahead of their new competitor. "Microsoft is very much focusing on the old-world problems of viruses and worms," according to Symantec Chief Financial Officer James Beer, speaking Monday at the JP Morgan Technology Conference, in San Francisco. "We're focusing on what we would call the new-world problems."

Symantec is readying an alternative to OneCare, code-named project Genesis, which is expected to ship by year's end. And the company's next generation of security products will concentrate on preventing things such as cybercrime and identity theft, Beer said.

Tough to Convince Users

Though Microsoft's size alone makes it a formidable competitor, analyst Michael Cherry says the company has no special advantage when it comes to the hardest part of selling antivirus software: convincing users to renew subscriptions.

Cherry, with the online newsletter Directions on Microsoft, estimates that 60 percent of antivirus users decline to renew their software licenses. "I don't see how Microsoft can nag people any more than Symantec or McAfee," he adds.

OneCare is presently available only to U.S. residents. The software is being beta-tested by hundreds of thousands of users. The beta software can be downloaded here.

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