Microsoft: Free anti-malware for all (Windows users)!

The other day Microsoft announced that it would phase-out sales of Windows Live OneCare subscriptions and roll out no-cost anti-malware during the second half of 2009. What does this mean for everyone involved?

The other day Microsoft announced that it would phase-out sales of Windows Live OneCare subscriptions and roll out no-cost anti-malware during the second half of 2009. What does this mean for everyone involved?

Upsides for Microsoft

  • Being able to fortify the Windows OS separate to issuing patches.
  • Gaining access to systems where the users don't run Windows Updates/Malicious Software Removal Tool.
  • Being able to provide protection for vulnerabilities involving third-party tools.

Downsides for Microsoft

  • Opening up a whole can of anti-trust worms.
  • Microsoft anti-malware doesn't really rank all that well (PDF).
  • Great fodder for more Apple ads.

Upsides for Consumers

  • Free anti-malware (although such a thing already exists).
  • Out of the box protection.
  • Security software on every Windows box would mean a lot less spam and malware all round.

Downsides for Consumers

  • Microsoft anti-malware doesn't stack up very well against the competition (PDF).
  • If the take-up of the anti-malware is good, it's a massive target for hackers and malware writers.
  • If installed as default (unlikely) then it's just more clutter for power users to get rid of.
  • If the software has a bad day and starts removing key files or generating a lot of false positives, a LOT of people are going to be affected.

Upsides for other anti-malware vendors

  • If the Microsoft offering is poor, it might drive sales.

Downsides for other anti-malware vendors

  • Well, if the Microsoft product is good, the downsides are obvious.

The bottom line ... it's really a wait and see game as to what Microsoft brings out. Whispers that I'm hearing indicate that "Morro" (the codename for the product) will be similar OneCare and will be available as a download for Windows users.

How will other security vendors react? Well, I've approached a few for comment and so far the replies have ranged from silence to bewilderment. While it's too early to know for sure, my guess is that there will be a clamor for the courts as soon as this goes live.