#3: You're less safe online.
In a sane world, Microsoft would have added basic antivirus protection to Windows at least five years ago, as part of its overall Trustworthy Computing initiative. Microsoft has owned excellent antivirus software for at least that long. They released a consumer antivirus product in 2006, Windows Live OneCare, which wasn't free, and an enterprise product called Forefront in 2007, which also wasn't free.
Microsoft finally released a free, simple, consumer-focused antivirus product last year based on the same Microsoft Antimalware engine it uses for its Forefront enterprise product. Microsoft Security Essentials is available to any Windows PC as a free download, but it's still not available as part of Windows itself. The Windows 7 Action Center will warn you if you don't have antivirus software installed, but clicking the Find a Program Online button takes you to this page, where Microsoft's free offering is one of 23 options, most of which are paid products.
And there's the rub. As my CNET colleague Ina Fried noted around the time Microsoft Security Essentials (then code-named "Morro") was announced, antitrust issues were on everyone's mind. A spokesman for a competing security company agreed that antitrust was probably not an issue "provided Microsoft does not bundle 'Morro' in with its operating system." And when asked directly whether Microsoft would ever consider bundling these security features directly into Windows, a Microsoft spokesperson said, "I can't foresee such a time."
In this case, I think the mere threat of an antitrust complaint from a big opponent like Symantec or McAfee has been enough to make Microsoft shy away from doing what is clearly in its customers' best interests. Although Microsoft Security Essentials is free, it's not included with Windows. And ironically, even though Microsoft's offering is free and gets excellent reviews, you're unlikely to find it on a new PC. Why? Because those competitors who sell antivirus software actually pay PC makers to preload their products, banking, literally, on the fact that a significant percentage of them will pay for an annual subscription.
#4: You want software with that OS? Go download it.
Microsoft is about to release an impressive update to its Windows Live Essentials program, but none of its components are included with Windows. Some of them, in fact, like Windows Live Mail and Windows Live Photo Gallery, are successors to utilities that were included with Windows as recently as three years ago, when Windows Vista was released. Strangely, Microsoft now offers the only major operating system that doesn't include an e-mail client.
So what happened? You can blame this one directly on United States versus Microsoft, as far as I'm concerned. There's no doubt that Microsoft wants every Windows user to install the Windows Live Essentials package, but after several hundred million dollars in legal bills, fines, and business disruptions, there is no way in hell that they're going to tie those programs to Windows and risk being hauled back into court for another beatdown.
The good news for anyone planning to buy a Windows PC is that Microsoft is likely to have considerable success getting not just the Windows Live Essentials package but also its Office Starter 2010 onto new PCs. With those pieces preinstalled, you'll have a pretty decent collection of consumer software, good enough to go head to head with a Mac running iLife. Because Apple isn't a convicted monopolist, though, they're free to bundle all those products on the same hardware without any fear.
In fact, as I realized while researching this piece, we now live in an era where, arguably, three companies have effective monopolies in different corners of the technology industry. Microsoft still has an overwhelming share of the PC market, although that share is under attack as alternative devices begin to do what used to require a PC. Google has a stranglehold on search and online advertising and is doing all it can to extend that monopoly into new markets. Apple has a Microsoft-like share of the market for digital music and portable devices and is reportedly under antitrust scrutiny by two agencies of the United States government.
Three monopolies, but only one of them regulated. That makes for a very interesting competitive landscape. Sometimes I think Microsoft might have been better off if they had agreed to break themselves up.