Microsoft to Bundle Anti-Spyware App With Windows
Microsoft said Friday that it plans to bundle its "Windows Anti-Spyware" tool with Windows Vista, the chronically delayed next version of the company's operating system. Microsoft also decided to rename the program "Windows Defender," in part to give it "a more positive name."
The announcement, like others of late, was posted on one of the numerous blogs on Microsoft's site that catalog the daily doings of the software giant's many technical divisions.
But this news -- for me, anyway -- was more than just a press release issued via a breezy blog post. It offered a glimpse of something Redmond hinted it was going to do years ago, but which has only recently become more of a reality: ship antivirus and anti-spyware updates to hundreds of millions of Windows computers every day through its Windows/Microsoft Update feature.
In truth, the company has been warming users to this idea for some time. Microsoft began using its updater in January to install and then update its "malicious software removal tool," which is designed to help people clean up infections from some of the most pervasive bots, viruses, worms and rootkits (sadly, it does not remove Sony's program).
Because the removal tool does not offer real-time virus protection and only runs when the user manually starts it, the tool is therefore not a substitute for antivirus or anti-spyware software. Still, the company has updated the tool each month, and it now detects and removes about 50 families of nasties (worms and viruses can have hundreds of variants).
The company is beta-testing its Windows OneCare product, which it will eventually market as a service that provides a new firewall along with antivirus and anti-spyware services. No word yet on how it will be marketed or how much people would be asked to pay for updates.
I doubt I would ever pay the company to ship me daily antivirus updates. I'd just as soon not get my security software from the same people who wrote the buggy code to begin with. However, there are millions of people for whom just running antivirus, anti-spyware and firewall software is too much to bother with. For them, this should be an extremely positive development, and the Internet on the whole will probably be a safer place because of it.
I just hope Microsoft dedicates the necessary resources to beefing up the bandwidth behind its update servers, which at times can be rather slow to push out monthly security patches -- let alone daily updates.
While I was poking around Microsoft's Technet blogs area, I spotted one more post on this topic by Steve Dodson. According to Dodson, users of Defender "will be able to run another spyware product instead. ... Although I may shed a small tear, you will be able to disable or turn off Windows Defender and install whichever 3rd party anti-spyware application you would like."
I suspect this will be the case also with any security program shipped with Windows Vista, if for no other reason than to keep the anti-virus companies -- who are already gearing up for a fight in Europe -- from accusing Microsoft of trying to use monopolist power to crush the wildly profitable industry.
I spoke with someone from Microsoft roughly a year ago who told me privately that the company would gladly give away its antivirus product were it not for the potential legal fallout. Just how truthful that statement was I really don't know, but it makes sense on a lot of levels: By making the software free, the company would look good for protecting its customers, potentially lower its support costs, and help diminish the impact (and bad press) from virus and worm outbreaks.
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