Despite all these tools, I’m not sure Microsoft will immediately crush its competition, if it competes fairly. Microsoft doesn’t have a stellar past record of doing well in the anti-malware field. Microsoft entered and left the antivirus market back in the days of MS-DOS 6.0 because they couldn’t be competitive. They have been promising better anti-malware tools for years now, and they still don’t have mature tools on the market. What they have brought out isn’t as good as what the competitors already have.
Windows Defender, for example, only downloads new signatures once a month or prior to on demand or scheduled scans. Other anti-virus programs check at least daily or more often, for much-needed updated signatures. MSRT only checks for the 75 top malware families; the typical anti-virus tool can detect more than 10,000 different families.
Windows Defender also doesn’t look for or remove spyware browser cookies, which number in the hundreds or thousands on most people’s computers. OneCare’s firewall is less secure and is less feature-rich than other free host-based firewalls (such as ZoneAlarm) already on the market.
This is not to say that Microsoft won’t make its tools better. It’s guaranteed that it will. But can Microsoft’s own technologists protect Windows against malware better than the industry leaders and innovators? Past history says it might be a struggle.
Back to the moral question of whether Microsoft should be allowed to compete in the anti-malware marketplace at all. First, if you are a critic, ask yourself if you would have the same objections if it was Apple better protecting OS X, or Sun better protecting Solaris? If you’re honest with yourself, you might find your anti-Microsoft predispositions creeping into your arguments.
What harm is there in allowing Microsoft to offer free or additional adjunct software protection alternatives? As long as Microsoft is not anti-competitive -- pushing its computer defense choices over other vendors' in an illegal way -- additional choices are a good thing. If any of the Microsoft-derived tools prevent a malware program from being installed that might otherwise be missed, then they are a good thing.
Prior to Microsoft’s Windows Firewall, for example, many Windows users did not install a host-based firewall. There are many free choices available, including the excellent and popular ZoneAlarm. But a large percentage of users never installed any host-based firewall, so those systems did not benefit from the additional protection.
When Microsoft released, and later pushed, Windows Firewall, it installed a host-based firewall to many XP Pro users who would have otherwise gone without. It is this segment of the desktop user population that benefits from Microsoft’s additional security defense software products. And when those users are protected, it benefits us all because their systems are less likely to be exploited and used to spread malware and attack our systems. In fact, several vulnerability reporting agencies reported an immediate, significant, decrease in Internet malware in the months following the Windows Firewall push.