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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.

By Brian Krebs  |  May 30, 2006; 10:29 PM ET
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How ironic if the race with the Microsoft logo were to CRASH!

Posted by: John MA | May 31, 2006 9:40 AM | Report abuse

thanks for taking $ out of my pocket microsoft.

Posted by: VAR/Tech | May 31, 2006 9:44 AM | Report abuse

Symantec needs a swift kick in the rear. I hope that Microsoft gives it to them.

Posted by: John Johnson | May 31, 2006 10:05 AM | Report abuse

So, Microsoft is saying, "We know we have problems in our software and we can fix them - if you pay us!"

There's another industry that uses this business model: Organized Crime, but they call it Extortion!!

Microsoft would do well to fix their problems without charging users to get the fix.

Posted by: Derek | May 31, 2006 10:12 AM | Report abuse

To be fair, Microsoft has created a product with OneCare that really moves the home AV software market forward.

I've used several different AV providers over the years, trying desperately to find a service that was effective while NOT being a system resource hog (Norton) or warning message fiend (Zone Alarm).

I'd been happy with Zone Alarm (lesser evil among rivals), but its constant warnings and clumsy interface left plenty of room for improvement.

When OneCare became available a few months back, I switched one of my PCs from ZA to OneCare and loved it. One Care may not be much better than its rivals, but it is at least as good AND it provides features that the other big players should have long ago (like a Backup utility). And at 1/3 the price, I think Microsoft has brought fresh and compelling entry to the home AV market that any computer user should be able to appreciate (novice or expert).

Posted by: BlueLaser | May 31, 2006 10:17 AM | Report abuse

People need to understand Windows Live OneCare is only for Windows XP machines. It will not work on Windows 2000 computers.

Posted by: Ted | May 31, 2006 10:18 AM | Report abuse

OneCare is NOT paying to fix the problem. You can always get updates free. OneCare assists those who do not want to take the time, or do not know how and dont want to know how.

its an excellent service that will help people like me, Internet Technicians.

Ever walked an 80 yr old woman thru windows update? I'd much rather see a piece of software do it all, instead of having her DL 50 things.


Posted by: Justin, Las Vegas | May 31, 2006 10:39 AM | Report abuse

I realize that is very fashionable to blame Microsoft for all these security problems. Do we blame the banks because people can rob them? No we blame the crooks. It is in fact the fault of the hackers that everyone is having problems with Windows security, not Microsoft!!!!

Posted by: BrindisiBob | May 31, 2006 10:55 AM | Report abuse

For those who don't want to pay Microsoft a red cent, what do you think would happen if Microsoft bundled yet another software into the OS? Won't the Symantecs and McAfees of the world cry "anti-trust"? So don't blame Microsoft for having to pay for OneCare, thank all the attorney-generals that sued them for bundling IE for free into Windows.

Posted by: Bart | May 31, 2006 11:04 AM | Report abuse

So, Microsoft is saying, "We know we have problems in our software and we can fix them - if you pay us!"


Microsoft would do well to fix their problems without charging users to get the fix.

Posted by: Derek | May 31, 2006 10:12 AM

How do you come off saying that security especially viruses are Microsoft's problem?? A virus can exist with any operating system, why are they more common on Windows machines??? BECAUSE OVER HALF THE WORLD USES THEM. Apples have been in past and still are even with Intel an intel base a higher pricepoint, they are not the average Joe's computer. Linux based machines are generally not as user friendly as Windows machines so most non-savy people choose Windows over Linux and BSD based platforms because of ease of use. This is why you see viruses and security holes discovered.

More people are worried about MS Products because more people use them. Linux distros have had to seal up security holes that were made vulnerabilities as well as MacOS, but why dont we hear about them as much as the others?? Because the majority of the world still uses Windows and will continue to use Windows.

So before you start blaming Microsoft for security flaws go take a look back at the last year of some of your larger Linux distros, or even on the MacOS Version History. Hell the whole reason for the jump from 10.2 to 10.3 was because of a few major security flaws.

Posted by: Billy | May 31, 2006 11:08 AM | Report abuse

Is it really legal to sell a product to protect people from the problems associated with another product? Isn't that the definition of extortion?

Here is a car analogy for you:

I buy a car and 10 years later it's discovered that when rear ended the car has a good chance of blowing up. You know what the car companies have to do by law? Issue a recall and fix the design flaw.

What would we say if the car companies stopped fixing their cars and decided to sell new kits for half the price of the car (annually) that fix any possible design flaws that might cause you to say die?

Seriously. The nerve of this convicted monopoly.

You might say I am comparing apples to oranges. You would say that right up until *your* identity is stolen and you have to spend years getting it fixed. Your computer has never been hacked? What about your banks? The grocery store where you shop? The county treasurer? The IRS? How about the credit agencies? What about Aunt Jamima who buys you those savings bonds every year for Christmas? Even the best security practices fall apart when the computer OS used by 90% of all people is vulnerable.

and they get to make you pay for a protection contract against their own product...amazing.

Why not just fix the computer OS like Apple, Linux, and every other OS?

Years ago Microsoft started charging companies on a automatic license upgrade scheme...I said at the time that it would just encourage them not to update their OS. Well it's been 6 years.

I must be crazy or something.


Posted by: Chris | May 31, 2006 11:14 AM | Report abuse

I am a security researcher that has critized Microsoft publicly and found their flaws in the past, but in this case...

1) Everybody here who cheered the DOJ going after Microsoft is not allowed to complain when Microsoft does not freely bundle a non-core OS product and therefore dominate a new section of the industry.

2) Microsoft's biggest problem is that it is the most successful OS vendor and the average computer user is an idiot. The vast majority of users will click on any warning box and install any program. Microsoft, Apple, and RedHat can't prevent infections when a user running as an Administrator runs a binary from an untrusted source, which is how the majority of malware gets onto systems these days.

Also, anybody crowing about Apple should think about their recent 27 vulnerability roll-up patch.

Posted by: Big Al | May 31, 2006 11:53 AM | Report abuse

This is only the first step! Soon, we will come after Symantec and McAfee in the enterprise market for malware protection and destroy them all!!! We will rule the world!

Posted by: Darth Gates | May 31, 2006 12:01 PM | Report abuse

I feel ambivalent about this Microsoft offering. On the one hand Microsoft is profiting from their own bugs and insecure architecture. On the other hand most established security software vendors could really use the competition. I think it would have been hard for Microsoft to offer this service free since there are anti-trust concerns.

Posted by: Qian Wang | May 31, 2006 12:02 PM | Report abuse

The real message -

MS to NASCAR fans:

"Attention gullible careless users and ignorant pawns of botnets: We don't think you're smart enough to take care of your computer, so pay us $50/year and we'll secure it for you."

Unfortunately, there will be plenty of folks who will ignore MS' marketing and continue practicing the computer equivalent of unprotected sex with many strangers on a Saturday night.

Security is a cost center; it should never be used for profit by the OS maker. It's an inherent conflict of interest.

If MS really wanted to improve security, there's two options:
A. Pay people $50/year to join OneCare Live.
B. Make security the core objective of Vista and incorporate as many of Vista's security features as possible, into a rollout of XP SP3.

Posted by: Ken L | May 31, 2006 1:52 PM | Report abuse

I almost went for MS One Care, until it wouldn't download via Firefox. I DO NOT want to be locked into MS's IE for any reason!

Posted by: dbm1rxb | May 31, 2006 2:52 PM | Report abuse

To BrindisiBob : No we do not blame banks for the robbery - do you know why? Because banks do not get robbed every day.

If they were to be robbed frequently, you will be after them to improve security or will start keeping your dough in cash.

How would like it banks start charging you say $1 every day (besides other fees) for keeping your money safe?

Posted by: Manoj | May 31, 2006 3:04 PM | Report abuse

For those who see Microsoft as the devil of the devil, nothing will persuade them to think otherwise. There is nothing wrong to like Linux or Mac over PC either. It all comes down to personal choice.

Personally I enjoy using PC.

Posted by: :) | May 31, 2006 4:26 PM | Report abuse

Using Microsoft leads to the dark side of the force.

Posted by: Yoda | May 31, 2006 4:56 PM | Report abuse

I have been very happy with my Norton I like the automatic updates. Unlike Microsoft their updates are not intrusive, and they don't remind you every 5 minutes hey! in order for your update to be effective you must reboot. Hey! Microsoft stop being a pest, stop acting like you are 5 and want it now.

Posted by: Louann | June 1, 2006 12:32 PM | Report abuse

Post script to my previous comment. Microsoft, I do not like the little infomation you give with the patches, give me more, I want to know what they are for. I hate downloading stuff because someone says you need it. I say why do I need it, educate me!!

Posted by: Louann | June 1, 2006 12:38 PM | Report abuse

Yoda, Microsoft leads to aggression, aggression leads to anger, anger leads to the dark side. Get it right.

Posted by: Ben Kenobi | June 16, 2006 1:06 PM | Report abuse

Well, I personally use UNIX, Linux and Windows in my workstations so it's not a question of favoritism when I say I do think it is a good idea for microsoft to present this product. It is true that many of the security holes are inherent to the OS structure and therefore the company could be held responsible to some point of the vulnerabilities. Nonetheless it is true that the main reason most viruses affect Windows based systems is due to the fact that most users run Windows. If you were to take the time and effort to write a worm, trojan or whatever would you target Solaris systems for example? (taking of course into account that most Solaris users do know what they're doing and are not likely to have unused ports open or to download fishy software while logged in as root) or would you prefer a HUGE base of novice and intermediate users running Windows and not knowing what a port is and clicking OK in every dialog box that may appear in their screens without even reading the message?

As discussed before, there are many users that can't or won't install windows updates simply because they don't have the time or they don't even know what they are. And no, it can't be free of charge because of anti-trust issues.

Really, next time you think it's extortion, try telling your old aunt how she's supposed to keep her Windows up and running with the latest patches and without virus...

Posted by: A1228D | June 16, 2006 2:58 PM | Report abuse

I have used MS OS for years, because it allows me to stay focused on productivity AND most of the applications I use require it.

I don't appreciate app's running in the background that slow me down. ZoneAlarm works very efficiently (you CAN turn off the notices and set permissions for your program access); and CA EZ Antivirus is equally efficient and unobtrusive.

I regularly test software, download a variety of files/apps/etc., and have gotten along just fine with ZA and EZ.

I don't like that I loose time to problems generated by MS with both updates and applications (when they haven't gotten their pound of flesh to sign off on one), among other things - but until someone develops an operating system that will work with real professional applications (which I have already invested thousands of dollars in) to get my work done, I'll have to stick with them. Linux won't cut it. Sorry.

If you open-source geeks (smart developers) want a challenge: there it is.

Posted by: Ioldanach | June 16, 2006 2:59 PM | Report abuse

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