Redmond Derby: Microsoft Meets NASCAR
Security experts have long compared the process of securing and safely using a Microsoft Windows PC to that of maintaining an automobile. Most people depend so much upon their cars -- and their computers -- yet have such a poor grasp of how to keep them in good shape that they routinely pay someone else to worry about the whole upkeep process. As it happens, Microsoft this week will roll out its controversial yet attractively priced Windows Live OneCare service to help Windows users stay abreast of the latest PC tuneups, antivirus and anti-spyware updates, free tech support, and automated system and data backups.
But how might the world's largest software company pitch a service that promises regular virtual oil changes to the PC masses worldwide? Why, by painting an ad for it on a NASCAR vehicle, of course.
On June 4, three days after its OneCare $49.95 boxed product arrives on electronics retailers' shelves, Microsoft will debut its new offering with a ginormous ad on the BestBuy-sponsored car at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Del.
Microsoft's Dennis Bonsall said the company's focus-group sessions showed that the concept of PC maintenance was most aptly captured by the choreographed dance commonly seen in Pit Row.
"Why do all this maintenance when you have this whole pit crew called OneCare around you to take care of everything?" posited Bonsall, director of the service. Bonsall said the ideal OneCare customer is "that middle-of-the-bell-curve PC user in the United States, the person who says, 'I don't have the time [or] expertise'" to deal with this.'
As attractive as the computers-as-cars metaphor may be, seasoned Windows users may completely abhor the notion of paying Microsoft to fix problems that it largely created, even if the $49.95 per year fee includes "protection" for up to three family machines. And while I personally count myself among those who would never pay Redmond a red cent for such a service, there are plenty of users who will and probably should avail themselves of this product.
For one thing, Microsoft is well ahead of the pack on this front, despite being a relative latecomer to the consumer computer-security space. It is shaking up the well-established anti-virus industry in being first to market with a more full-featured security and backup-centered solution for home users (Bonsall said future versions of OneCare will include content-filtering services for concerned parents looking to shield little Johnny from the Web's most objectionable content.) It is also nice to see the emphasis placed on data backup in OneCare. The program basically helps the user automate backing up documents and other important files to removable media like DVDs, or to an external or secondary hard drive, but this is a critical area of upkeep on a Windows PC, and one that has been traditionally overlooked in the security suites sold by the major anti-virus vendors. Also, Microsoft has said it will offer free phone, online chat or e-mail support to all customers, a feature that is mostly lacking at the moment for consumer anti-virus products.
Mainstream anti-virus firms only recently began taking on the adware and spyware industry, and their delayed entry into the the full-service, family-service space is only too obvious with today's announcement by Microsoft. Take McAfee, which is arguably neck-and-neck with Symantec for domination of the US consumer market. Literally within minutes of the issuance of an embargoed press release alluding to today's announcement from Redmond, a press person for McAfee rang me, calling attention to that company's statement saying its uber-secret "Falcon" service, "which has been under stealth development for more than 12 months, will debut this summer, and provide consumers with a choice of comprehensive protection service packages." The presser was rather light on what those packages might include, but McAfee is hardly alone in the hype.
Symantec has for several months been touting the imminent release of its own all-in-one consumer protection/data backup suite, a product it has assigned the cryptic code name of "Project 'Genesis'."
Given Microsoft's early entry into this space, and its ability to price its offerings well below its rivals', I doubt that those rivals could successfully sell a similar service which is all that much more expensive than Microsoft's, but I have been wrong before.
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