Microsoft enterprise AV tool unlikely: Sophos

Microsoft is unlikely to launch its own enterprise anti-virus software because it is not geared up to make changes to its products as quickly as traditional anti-virus companies, according to the chief executive officer of Sophos.

Microsoft is unlikely to launch its own enterprise anti-virus software because it is not geared up to make changes to its products as quickly as traditional anti-virus companies, according to the chief executive officer of Sophos.

Dr Jan Hruska, who is also co-founder of the anti-virus firm, told ZDNet Australia  on Monday although Microsoft had acquired companies with technology that could be used to release a Microsoft-branded anti-virus product, the software heavyweight was more likely to create a security platform capable of using anti-virus engines from numerous companies.

"It is difficult to say what Microsoft will do in this area but one thing that is almost certain is that Microsoft will not attempt to have its own anti-virus engine -- mainly because the maintenance of such an engine is something that would be very different from Microsoft's way of developing software,' said Hruska.

He explained that specialist anti-virus companies had completely different development cycles to most software companies. If Microsoft created an anti-virus product, it would have to make extensive changes to its processes to be successful.

"Anti-virus companies have to move extremely quickly -- we have to react within minutes and within tens of minutes we should be able to shift new definitions to our users. Microsoft doesn't work like that. It works in three-month beta cycles,' said Hruska.

Hruska's comments contradict predictions by analyst firm Gartner, which late last year predicted that Microsoft would most likely launch its own anti-virus product by the end of this year.

In December, Gartner said there was an 80 percent chance that Microsoft would release a combined anti-virus and anti-spyware product in the second half of 2005. The company went on to say the new product would cost less than current anti-virus and anti-spyware products on the market and that would affect traditional anti-virus firms such as Symantec.

Sophos's Hruska admitted that Microsoft had the resources to compete in any market, but said Redmond's acquisition choices (GeCad, Giant Software and Sybari) indicate that it may limit its anti-virus intrusion to the consumer space.

Such a move would not threaten Sophos, which is focussed on the enterprise.

"Sybari can plug seven different anti-virus engines into its software -- including Sophos'," Hruska said. "The indications are that Microsoft could enable another anti-virus engine to be plugged into it and maybe revive the GeCad anti-virus engine... There is nothing to prevent it from doing that but whether they have the will is a different matter. If I was Symantec [in the retail market] I would be more afraid," he added.

Symantec's ability to defend its consumer business is critical to the company, given that half its revenue and its rapid growth have come from selling anti-virus and other security software to home PC owners and small businesses.

However, Symantec denies that Microsoft entering the consumer anti-virus market would threaten its business. At the RSA Security Conference in San Francisco in February, Symantec's chief executive officer John Thompson said he would rely on the capabilities of Symantec's products -- rather than the law -- to fend off any challenge from the software giant.

"I don't plan to go to the Justice Department and whine about Microsoft's monopoly," Thompson said. "I'd rather fight Microsoft in the marketplace, because I'm sure we'll whip them."