Microsoft an antivirus vendor? I doubt it

commentary With its recent acquisition of GeCad, is Microsoft trying to pit itself against the antivirus bigwigs?

commentary Last week, Microsoft acquired GeCad, a little-known antivirus company from Romania. Though the deal, which was barely mentioned in the mainstream news and must still pass regulatory approval, will affect the antivirus community, I believe in the long run it won't change things dramatically.

Why? Because Microsoft appears to have no intention of going head-to-head with antivirus big guns Symantec, McAfee, and Trend Micro. There are two major reasons I think so.

First, Microsoft has announced it will no longer distribute GeCad's desktop antivirus app, RAV AntiVirus. It wouldn't say that if it wanted to compete with Symantec's Norton AntiVirus or McAfee VirusScan.

The decision to kill RAV is probably wise. The product isn't as capable as its competitors, according to tests conducted by independent magazine Virus Bulletin. In order to pass these tests, a product must be able to stop all known viruses. While no antivirus product has a perfect record, in 25 recent tests RAV failed 19 times--a whopping 76 percent failure rate. By comparison, Norton AntiVirus passed 20 times and failed only six.

Second, if Microsoft wanted to rock the antivirus world, it would have purchased one of the A-list vendors such as Symantec, McAfee, Trend Micro, or Computer Associates. GeCad, a relative unknown outside of Eastern Europe, is decidedly B-list.

Microsoft probably never planned to purchase a leading antivirus vendor, because such a deal would have greatly complicated the company's alliance with Trend Micro and McAfee. The three companies are working together to provide a central resource of information regarding viruses that target Microsoft software.

Iinstead of overtaking the current antivirus bigwigs, the software giant says it wants GeCad's help in working with the rest of the antivirus and security community. Microsoft certainly needs some assistance in this area, as evidenced by the recent Windows XP update that shut down third-party firewall products and prevented many from connecting to their companies' VPNs. Microsoft has yet to offer an explanation as to why it failed to test the update prior to its release

The software giant isn't new to antivirus technology. Back in the early 1990s, the company included an antivirus utility made by Central Point Software in its MS-DOS and early Windows operating systems. MSAV, as it was known, was short-lived, however. It was dropped from Windows shortly after Symantec acquired Central Point Software in 1994.

Ultimately, I think Microsoft's purchase of GeCad shows that the software giant is getting serious about improving security and wants to work more closely with antivirus vendors to accomplish this. Even if MS includes its own brand of antivirus protection in future versions of Windows, users will likely still opt for more feature-filled third party apps.

The one way Microsoft could really harm vendors is to change Windows in such a way as to render current antivirus products useless or redundant. So long as that doesn't happen, I believe antivirus companies have little to worry about.