Microsoft has just thrown the anti-virus
industry a problem called Microsoft Security Essentials. The problem is
the incredibly obvious one - it's free.
What's amazing is not that
Microsoft is handing out something for free, but that it has taken them
so long to get around to it. For at least the last four years since
XP's SP2 security makeover, it's been obvious that anti-malware is not
an optional extra with a PC but a core part of what makes it usable.
The clue to Essentials is in its name.
follows history. Not that long ago, the Internet-inspired bought TCP/IP stacks to get
their computers to connect to the Internet until it was realised that
this was a job for the operating system and was actually a necessity.
Although Essentials isn't tightly knitted to Windows, my prediction is
that it will one day become so, just as the Windows 7 firewall and User
account Control are now standard piece of its internal workings.
of the extraordinary number of other companies selling programs that do
much the same thing? In the short term, some of them will also have to
start giving away basic anti-malware programs too for fear that they
will be pushed off the desktop. Longer term, the better paid-for
programs will start adding more and more features to keep up market
An increasing number already come with anti-spam (the one
useful thing Essentials doesn't yet do) anti-keylogging virtual
keyboards, patching of third-party vulnerabilities, and some have
started taking up ID theft protection. I can see encryption utilities
entering the fray. The possibilities are myriad.
For sure, the
Symantecs and McAfees will need better marketing to explain why all
these extra bits matter because the average consumer has barely even
heard of them never mind seeing it as a reason to spend money. That's
the biggest challenge - trying to explain why they need something that
goes beyond what free programs will do for nothing.
question is where all this leaves business customers. The majority of
these have tended to stick to basic AV programs that can be centrally
managed, but it's hard to see how Essentials won't have some sort of
knock-on effect on this market too.
Security software companies are
an essential part of the microcosm of diversity that is essential to
keep the security industry form lagging too far behind the criminals.
But perhaps that's the real problem that the arrival of Essentials
points too. The idea of a security company is slowly becoming obsolete
as these technologies reach closer to kernel level.