Microsoft Antivirus Software: Like Fox Guarding Hen House

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I wish I could say I made it into the first round of the beta but Microsoft cut off downloads of Microsoft Security Essentials beta software after 700,000 in the first 24 hours. So, while I haven't had a chance to look at the beta software, it's interesting to see the reaction from the market. One of the most common threads you hear are calls that antivirus software from Microsoft is like the fox watching the hen house. Because of Microsoft's track record with viruses and vulnerabilities, users can't trust anti-virus software from Microsoft to protect their own stuff.

I can see some merit to this argument, but if it were true we would have seen one or multiple security problems with Microsoft's OneCare antivirus software, which we didn't. I actually liked OneCare and thought it was at least one of the more reasonable antivirus software products. But this fox-hen house argument carries even less weight with the Microsoft Security Essentials software. MSE is some of the fruits from the Giant and Sybari acquisitions, meaning MSE has its roots in software created outside of Microsoft. You'd have to argue that Microsoft has corrupted the people and technologies acquired from these two companies, which openly aggressive Microsoft bashers and those with a dog in this hunt will do whether it's true or not.

I have to believe a good deal of the fox-hen house argument is coming from and/or being fanned by entrenched interests in the antivirus software market. It's obviously in their interest to keep Microsoft's credibility as low as possible when it comes to security software from Redmond. We saw this both when OneCare was introduced, and when Microsoft announced they were killing the product. Symantec's John Thompson was one of the most vocal against Microsoft but there were no shortage of naysayers. Now, I'd have to say that I'd call foul too if Microsoft threatened my market by entering it with competitive software and we certainly saw that with OneCare.

But the anti-virus market has changed significantly since OneCare was introduced. The mantra today is free anti-virus software, at least for entry-level, basic consumer use. Panda has both a cloud based offering and also a free beta for Windows 7 users. AVG software was one of the earliest to offer free AV software, and I've seen AVG on plenty of machines because of it. Back in November 2008, Microsoft announced it was pulling the plug on OneCare, and I didn't believe that was it, that Microsoft was out of AV software game. It was too uncharacteristic of Microsoft to pull out of a market like that, and 3rd party security software had become so over bloated that it both got in the way of users and consumed a high amount of system resources causing a poor reflection upon Windows. (See Just How Dead Is OneCare, Really?.)

While the jeers and boos will continue from bashers and competitors, I think there is and will be a place for Microsoft Security Essentials antivirus software. As long as Microsoft doesn't raise the EUC's attention by bundling MSE with Windows or integrate it into the operating system, we should see MSE as a viable AV alternative. Those who still believe the fox-hen house argument will have the option of using another third party's AV software technology. Microsoft just has to be careful not to stumble by having security issues with MSE so as not to add any credibility to the fox-hen house argument. You know others are watching and looking intensely for chinks in MSE's armor, and will leverage any flaws they find to compete against any Microsoft security offering.

This story, "Microsoft Antivirus Software: Like Fox Guarding Hen House" was originally published by Network World.

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