All in all, Windows Defender Offline looks and behaves much like Microsoft's Standalone System Sweeper, which has been around since May. Why, you might ask, is Microsoft changing the name of the product? It looks to me like the company is trying to revitalize the old "Windows Defender" name one small step at a time.
Windows Defender, you might recall, grew out of Giant AntiSpyware, which Microsoft bought in 2004. The package morphed a little bit and changed its name, finally emerging as Windows Defender for XP in 2006. Vista shipped with Windows Defender built-in. In a parallel universe, Microsoft bought Sybari in 2005 and turned it into Microsoft Forefront, the enterprise product you undoubtedly know well. Microsoft developed a consumer -- and later, small business -- version of Forefront, calling it Microsoft Security Essentials, which was released in final form in 2009. Microsoft Security Essentials is a free download, but Windows Vista and Windows 7 don't mention it anywhere. Installing Security Essentials or Forefront effectively disables Windows Defender; although vestiges of the old Defender remain, they're well-hidden.
The evolution of Defender and its supplanting by the free Security Essentials took place against a backdrop of real and imagined threats of lawsuits by the major antivirus software manufacturers. Amazingly, the antivirus industry not only survived, it thrived. Perhaps that's why Microsoft now feels comfortable putting considerably more sophisticated antivirus capabilities into Windows 8.
Windows president Steve Sinofsky says on the Building Windows 8 blog, "With Windows 8 we are extending the protections provided by Defender to address a broader range of potential threats." Remarkably, it appears as if Microsoft is recycling the old "Defender" moniker -- probably to avoid confusion with Microsoft Security Essentials -- and giving it all sorts of advanced features that don't appear in the old Defender, Forefront, or Security Essentials.
The specter of antitrust legal action still looms, though. In the same blog post, Sinofsky tosses out a CYA: "We're continuing to work with antimalware partners during the Windows 8 development process so you have the best possible Windows PC experience no matter what antimalware solution you choose. We provide them with resources, such as the technical details of how we architected the performance improvements for Windows Defender, so they have the opportunity to make similar improvements to their products."
By renaming the old Standalone System Sweeper as "Windows Defender Offline," Microsoft is starting to get everyone accustomed to the new use of the old "Defender" name. Subtle. Smart. Expect to see more examples as Windows 8 continues on the path to RTM.
This story, "Microsoft releases old recovery software in new wrapper," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.