Microsoft readies PC security, tools bundle

Software giant makes move against traditional security software vendors

Microsoft is readying a new consumer security product that offers virus and spyware protection, a new firewall, and several tune-up tools for Windows PCs, a move that pits the software giant squarely against traditional security software vendors.

The product, dubbed Windows OneCare, will be tested internally at Microsoft starting this week. A public test, or beta, version is scheduled to be available by year's end, Microsoft said in a statement late Thursday. The final product will be offered as a subscription service, the Redmond, Washington, software maker said.

OneCare marks Microsoft's long-anticipated entry into the antivirus space, until now the domain of specialized vendors such as Symantec, McAfee, and Trend Micro. Microsoft announced its intent to offer antivirus products two years ago when it bought Romanian antivirus software developer GeCAD Software SRL.

But OneCare will do more than guard against viruses and worms. The product also will include spyware protection and a new firewall that scans incoming and outgoing traffic. The firewall already included in Windows scans only incoming traffic.

Microsoft acquired antispyware technology late last year from Giant Company Software. A beta of a stand-alone antispyware product has been available since January. That technology will be part of OneCare, company representatives said.

Additionally, OneCare will offer improved backup and restore capabilities and easy access to PC maintenance tools already in Windows for file repair, hard disk clean up and hard disk defragmentation, Microsoft said.

"The idea is to bring it all together for the customer," said Dennis Bonsall, a group product manager at Microsoft.

OneCare is targeted at consumers, not businesses. Microsoft is especially looking to target the 70 percent of consumer PC users who don't have protection because current offerings are too complex or take too much time to manage, Bonsall said.

Microsoft is designing OneCare to be very straightforward, Bonsall said. OneCare includes a PC "health meter" similar to the Windows Security Center in Windows XP Service Pack 2. The health meter will display green, yellow or red to indicate the state of the PC and OneCare will help users take action, if needed.

With OneCare consumers will win and existing security vendors stand to lose, according to Van Baker, a Gartner Inc. analyst in San Jose, California.

Current security products are too complex for general consumers, Baker said. The traffic light metaphor in OneCare is appealing. "That kind of drop-dead simple is what consumers need. They need to know that their PC is good to go," Baker said.

Although some might think that Microsoft is not the right company to protect Windows because it created the product that is being attacked, Baker believes consumers will trust Microsoft to protect their PCs.

"The mindset among consumers is going to be: 'These are the guys who designed the operating system, so they should know how to protect it well.' The fact that it is coming from Microsoft will play well among consumers," Baker said.

Microsoft said it is too early to talk about pricing for OneCare or when the final version of the product will be generally available.

On the enterprise side, Microsoft has said that it will offer an enterprise antispyware tool at some point. Also, Microsoft signed an agreement in February to buy Sybari Software, an enterprise antivirus and antispam software company.

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