Could Microsoft kill the antivirus industry?
Rivals such as Symantec dismissed Microsoft’s free antivirus software as offering “a false sense of security”, but the numbers speak for themselves.
In its first week of release, Microsoft Security Essentials registered 1.5 million downloads – with Windows 7 testers accounting for the lion’s share, suggesting those without current security software are more than willing to give it a go.
There’s little doubt the package has Microsoft’s rivals rattled, but could Security Essentials one day pose a threat to the security industry? As a standalone product it’s certainly competitive, with our own review summing it up as “free, simple, light and impressively effective”, but what would happen if Microsoft began bundling it with Windows?
Windows 7 already includes a firewall and antispyware software – throw in a decent antivirus package and it’s harder for people to justify paying £40 or more for a full security suite.
“If Microsoft automatically included an antivirus package within the OS, then there’s no need for the customer to go and buy a rival package, so it would definitely be a problem It’s such dilemmas that normally attract the attention of regulators, especially when Microsoft’s involved. The European Commission has already tapped the software giant for a combined 1.35 billion euros in fines for anticompetitive behaviour and failing to comply with its rulings.
The European Commission refused to comment on what would happen if Microsoft bundled Security Essentials with Windows, but Alan Davis, a competition partner with the law firm Pinsent Masons was less reticent.
“The EC steps in when a product removes the incentive for a customer to go elsewhere and get a competing product,” he said. “If Microsoft automatically included an antivirus package within the OS, then there’s no need for the customer to go and buy a rival package, so it would definitely be a problem.”
But while Davis believes the EC would get involved, he isn’t convinced it would be an open and shut case. “In the current climate, Microsoft could claim that it’s important customers have a basic level of protection and that’s all it’s offering. That could be a solid defence: it’s now become almost necessary, like a medical vaccination.”
It’s an argument that analyst Rob Enderle believes could buy Microsoft support from governments, which are becoming increasingly twitchy about the impact of cybercrimes on the economy. “Better security has been the top request for years from Microsoft customers and it would go a long way towards the elimination of botnets and reducing the potential for a nationwide attack on government systems. You could see homeland security agencies actually promoting this approach,” said Enderle.
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