Microsoft Forefront corporate security client a year away

A small group of beta testers will be expanded significantly in the last quarter of the year, with the introduction of a public beta

Microsoft's foray into the corporate antivirus desktop space will come in the first half of 2007, company executives said Monday.

Since February, a group of about 100 beta testers have been looking at Microsoft's new Forefront Client Security product, but that group will expand significantly in the last quarter of the year, with the introduction of a public beta program, said Paul Bryan, a director of product management with Microsoft's Security, Access and Solutions division.

The fully supported product will ship by the end of June 2007, he said.

This marks the first time Microsoft has said when it will release public beta and fully supported versions of Client Security, which was previously called Microsoft Client Protection.

Microsoft is taking its time with this rollout. Client Security is based on software the company acquired in its 2003 purchase of antivirus vendor GeCAD. It also includes antispyware technology that was picked up a year and a half ago when Microsoft bought Giant Company Software.

In fact, this is not Microsoft's first shot at delivering antivirus software. The company tried unsuccessfully to break into the market in the early 1990s with software called Microsoft Anti-Virus.

Things are different this time around, however. Over the past few years, security has emerged as a top priority for Microsoft's developers, and the company has built up a team of malware experts who are chartered with responding immediately to reports of malicious software or security vulnerabilities in Microsoft's products.

And Microsoft already ships the free Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool that scans and removes viruses from PCs. With more than 270 million Windows users running this tool in any given month, Microsoft is able to get a unique picture of malware trends, executives say. On Monday, Microsoft released its first comprehensive analysis of this data, saying that it was detecting malware about once every 300 times the tool was run.

Client Security's tight integration with Microsoft's other products, including ActiveDirectory, will be a major selling point, according to Margaret Arakawa, a senior director with the Security, Access and Solutions division. "All of the IT professionals who know ActiveDirectories will understand how to deploy security policy," she said.

Microsoft has also moved into the consumer antivirus market lately, but there will be some major differences between Client Security and the consumer product, Windows Live OneCare.

For example, Client Security will not have the backup and system tuning capabilities that come with OneCare, but it will run on server software. The upcoming beta will be available for Windows 2000, Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 users. Arakawa did not know whether a Windows Vista version would be available at that time.

Having one support contract for both antivirus and operating system software is appealing, but Avnet Inc.'s Rob Kudray says he'll probably wait for the product to mature before he gives it a shot on his network.

"I would wait until the second or third generation of their product," said Kudray, a manager of messaging services with the electronics vendor in Chandler, Arizona. "I'd like to see a track record. See how they're performing, and see how their management tools come along."

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