In an effort to improve the disastrous security record of Internet Explorer (IE) and fight off the threat from the Firefox browser, Gartner believes there is an 80 percent chance that Microsoft will release a combined anti-virus and anti-spyware product in the second half of 2005.
In a research note published on Thursday, Gartner analysts predicted that such a product from Microsoft would cost less than current anti-virus and anti-spyware products on the market, which is likely to affect the development cycles of traditional anti-virus firms such as Symantec.
"To remain competitive, antivirus vendors must either accelerate their lagging spyware product development cycles or acquire one of the remaining smaller anti-spyware vendors," said Gartner analysts.
Speculation about Microsoft releasing an antivirus product has been growing since the company bought Romania-based antivirus firm GeCad in June 2003.
Earlier this year, Microsoft's chairman Bill Gates hinted that the company was looking at offering an anti-spyware product but did not disclose whether the product would be developed internally or part of an acquisition strategy.
At the time, Gates said: "This malware thing is so bad. Now that's the one that has us really needing to jump in."
Giant, the anti-spyware firm acquired by Microsoft, only targets the consumer market, which means enterprises are unlikely to be the main beneficiaries of any new offering.