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Microsoft To Offer Free Security Tools

Sometime next year, Microsoft will break with years of tradition and offer its customers free anti-virus software. The company said yesterday afternoon that it will retire its $49.95/year OneCare security package on June 30, then replace it with a simpler, free security program:

Code-named "Morro," this streamlined solution will be available in the second half of 2009 and will provide comprehensive protection from malware including viruses, spyware, rootkits and trojans. This new solution, to be offered at no charge to consumers, will be architected for a smaller footprint that will use fewer computing resources, making it ideal for low-bandwidth scenarios or less powerful PCs.

(If I may digress: Morro is not a code name, it's a nickname. There's nothing secret about monikers revealed in press releases.)

Microsoft's OneCare blog has more on the news, including a Q&A for OneCare subscribers that seems short on detail. For instance, it doesn't address whether users who renew their subscriptions now will get a refund on the balance left over after OneCare expires.

EWeek blogger Joe Wilcox provides a little extra context with an analysis of the news published last night, which asks the question "why not just make OneCare a free product?" but doesn't quite get an answer out of Microsoft's representatives.

I've tested two versions of OneCare--first in 2006, then last spring. Each time, I found it a capable but unexceptional program. It often repeated the mistakes of third-party security programs, in particular by failing to play nicely with add-on software already installed on a computer.

Given that history, the idea of a simpler security program sounds appealing. And if anybody can write one that won't conflict with Windows itself--an occasional problem with other companies' anti-virus tools--it ought to be Microsoft. True, this change may not do any favors to the business models of such competitors as McAfee and Symantec, but at this point I'm more interested in the welfare of individual Windows users.

So now I'll turn the floor over to you, the individual Windows user: What would Microsoft's "Morro" have to do to persuade you to dump your existing security software?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  November 19, 2008; 9:48 AM ET
Categories:  Windows  
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Comments

For me, not take too much of my CPU. I currently don't use any anti-virus on my home computers. I just backup my data and turn them off when not in use. I would rather do that than have my PC crippled by bloated anti-virus programs.

Posted by: tundey | November 19, 2008 10:16 AM | Report abuse

Security s/w... where shall I begin?

1) it's for people that can't help themselves, and must click on every link e-mailed to them from someone in the "country of Africa" (thx Sarah Palin ;-)

2) it's not fool-proof, therefore it's practically worthless.

3) whatever prophylactic abilities security s/w does possess is only as good as the last update, that has been DOWNLOADED! "I have [name of any security s/w suite] on my PC." "When did you update it last?" "January '07 I think..."

4) it's such a resource hog that you might be better off having the virii running on your machine.


A little self-restraint and a firewall is all I use and I'm "clean for Gene."

Posted by: Roofelstoon | November 19, 2008 10:41 AM | Report abuse

I'm pretty computer savvy, and not one to "click on every link". I use anti-virus software, and I recommend it to my customers, both business and home users. It's taking an unnecessary risk to run without AV software.

An effective program is VIPRE from Sunbelt Software. Light on resources, easy to install and configure, and updates itself. Cheaper than the dreaded Norton. A good, free alternative is Avira. Though it doesn't offer protection from as many threats as VIPRE, it is free.

Both programs update themselves automagically. It's been awhile since I've seen one that doesn't, unless you let your subscription lapse, and when that happens, these programs tend to let you know about it.

I would never recommend connecting to the internet without protection unless you have a lot of time and/or money to spend on recovering data and removing malware, or unless you want to learn how to reformat your hard drive --- both are options.

Posted by: catester | November 19, 2008 12:02 PM | Report abuse

I think Symantec will do OK. They still manage to sell the Norton Utilities. So I don't see their antivirus offering going away anytime soon.

Posted by: wiredog | November 19, 2008 12:22 PM | Report abuse

I have been using OneCare for a couple of years and it has worked well on both XP and Vista. I am sorry to see it go.

Posted by: polyman1 | November 19, 2008 12:30 PM | Report abuse

People still pay for anti-virus programs?

Posted by: larrymac | November 19, 2008 3:15 PM | Report abuse

I'm more than a little disturbed by some of the comments, especially that from "Roofelstoon". First, to say that AV stuff is not perfect is very far from condemning it as worthless. Installing it and keeping it up to date satisfies only part of an internaut's responsibility. More important, the reason to protect your computer is less to prevent damage to YOUR programs and data than it is to protect OTHERS' stuff from the effects of malware hosted, perhaps inadvertently, on your machine. Connecting to the Internet when one's machine is not, at least to a reasonable degree, protected is irresponsible and antisocial. No question: maintaining anti-malware stuff on any individual machine is a pain. But it's also necessary.

Posted by: VieuxDeLaMontagne | November 19, 2008 3:34 PM | Report abuse

VieuxDeLaMontagne, you needn't be disturbed by knowledgeable computer users not using security software. It's not that easy to get infected these days with a patched system and some common sense. I haven't run any anti-virus software on my laptop for about 3 years. It's used only by me and I know what I'm doing. There are free online virus scanners for occasional scans of the my entire drive or selected files. I haven't been infected by anything in years.

A firewall, patched OS and software and a brain make anti-virus redundant. "Connecting to the Internet when one's machine is not, at least to a reasonable degree, protected..." is irresponsible, but to suggest that the only way to be protected is through slow, buggy anti-virus software is naive and invites a false sense of security.

Posted by: scarper86 | November 19, 2008 5:23 PM | Report abuse

I guess it would depend on the user's exposure.

I sign on to the WaPo using my full e-mail address. In the over 3 years of doing so, I have only received 4 e-mails sent to me by WaPo readers. One agreed hardily with one of my post - two were wise-a$$ responses and one contained an actual virus, called the scr u virus [that duplicated the incoming e-mail about 65 times] and once I realized it appeared to be attacking the format function, my security software provider and I combined figured out how to neutralize it.

I do not avoid glib and controversial posts, though I try to remein 'civil' when addressing other comments.

I don't visit porn sites [I just look in the mirror - LOL] and even though as a Realtor, potentially anyone could be e-mailing me, I use discretion in opening unusual items.

So far I am generally happy with my anti-virus package, which rivals Kaspersky and since running multiple anti-virus engines can cause serious conflicts, I don't do so.

I am willing to pay for an excellent anti-virus product and while none are perfect, I find one anti-virus and one anti-spyware product work fine.

Posted by: brucerealtor@gmail.com | November 20, 2008 9:16 AM | Report abuse

A while back I tested the OneCare beta. I liked it because it scanned fast. Sadly though, I am one of those who sometimes clicks on a questionable site. Viruses made it through.

I am a home user, so I like to use the free software. When I do get infected, I run many different antivirus software, including Microsoft's Malicious Software Removal Tool to rid the nasties.

Now I have been using the Comodo Firewall Pro for firewall and antivirus. So far, so good!

Posted by: Maryponders | November 20, 2008 12:32 PM | Report abuse

It will indeed force Symantec to adopt a different business model. They have a knowledge base, but it is ill-used. They have actually begun phishing their own customers, charging higher-than-authorized charges for "extras."

Microsoft has always had a documentation problem, as does almost any software company. I don't expect this to change.

Posted by: Jumper1 | November 20, 2008 6:51 PM | Report abuse

First I surf the web on a restricted account. My exclusive web browser is FireFox 3.0.4. Unfortunately I have a penchant to occasionally veer into some, um, sites of ill repute. So I have to have pretty good armor. I have the firewall turned on. I have Symantec corporate edition. It's pretty unobtrusive and updates automatically. It does not have an expiration date. I also use Windows defender. My computer is fully patched. I have not had a virus, worm or Trojan in 4yrs of web use on my home PC.

Posted by: jabreal00 | November 20, 2008 10:07 PM | Report abuse

One can be as careful as one can be, but if we don't have an anti-malware program and rely too much on our sense of what's safe and what's not, we are asking for trouble. There are rootkits out there that penetrate operating systems at a very deep level and unless you are able to detect such an intrusion (e.g., clicking a link/picture within a known "safe" website that has been hacked) you will not know you're infected unless you have some kind of malware protection. Granted not all rootkits, trojans, etc., can be detected by these programs but they have a better chance of alerting you than relying solely on your perception of what's safe.

Posted by: RobX | November 21, 2008 12:36 PM | Report abuse

Regarding your digression, code names don't always refer to "secret" names. The press mentioned what the president-elect, the first-lady elect and their 2 daughters' secret service "code names" would be. Not much of a secret now is it? :-) Code names are meant to be names that conceal the real identity. And I am pretty sure the code name in this case is meant to conceal the actual name of the product.

Posted by: laurawl | November 21, 2008 3:13 PM | Report abuse

I have gone unprotected with not a single infection since the release of Windows XP, including hooking up to networks abroad like Thailand. My secret, and I don't know why anyone else doesn't do this, is to set up for myself an XP User Account that has read only permissions. No executables can install on my drive. When I do need to install s/w, I sign-in as admin. I, of course, install all the MS security patches. Even with Morro being free, I won't be installing it. I also use a router to prevent hackers getting to my laptop. If there is something wrong with this, please tell me! But the facts remain.

Posted by: MonteBristow | November 22, 2008 12:16 PM | Report abuse

I have gone unprotected with not a single infection since the release of Windows XP, including hooking up to networks abroad like Thailand. I have gone to some pretty crazy websites too. My secret, and I don't know why anyone else doesn't do this, is to set up for myself an XP User Account that has read only permissions. No executables can install on my drive. I can tell when they are trying to install malware on my drive, but they can't. I do have to close IE and restart it.

When I do need to install s/w, I sign-in as admin. I, of course, install all the MS security patches.

Even with Morro being free, I won't be installing it because I don't need it. I also use a router to prevent hackers getting to my laptop.

If there is something wrong with this strategy, please tell me! But the facts remain.

Posted by: MonteBristow | November 22, 2008 12:24 PM | Report abuse

I could be less sophisticated than some of these users, but here is my 2 cents. Am running a "performance" modded version of XP on an old optiplex server crammed in a bunch of RAM and a card or two, and I'm using it as a pc. The computers around here look like Frankenstein. If you like old movies, remember "Repo Man"?

(govt agent sarcastically referring to a table of rude punk degenerates) "Nice friends."

(Emilio Estevez) "Thanks, I made 'em myself"

I know I probably shouldn't, but I run as "administrator" all the time. I tried switching back and forth but quit. I am the only user of this computer, its password protected. They won't see this but the rest of the family is too mistake prone to use mine. I mean they're horrible. So, no one knows my tough password, and that's the way it stays. They know they're incompetent though, so they don't complain. They have they're own anyway, right?

I use avg free and comodo free firewall, and a router, and rarely have any problems, and its been a long time since I had a serious one. My anti virus scan comes on at 1 AM. I figure if i'm still awake then, I should go to bed. Most often I skip the scan and have it shut off by then.

Sometimes i sweep with spybot and or ad aware, also free. I find trivial tracking cookies, but not much else. Once every year or so I sweep with Kaspersky's on line scanner. Since most of this is automatic, a lazy guy like me isn't bothered much with it.

Posted by: otter357 | November 23, 2008 9:31 AM | Report abuse

Oh, I don't think I'd use a microsoft security product. No offense, but I think a third party might be more prudent for me. Who knows what microsoft might put in there? I've heard sometimes people do stuff that microsoft wouldn't like. My cousin once told me a story about a guy who...

Posted by: otter357 | November 23, 2008 9:36 AM | Report abuse

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