Peace in our time for Vista?

Jim Allchin's comments that Windows Vista doesn't need any extra security software could stir up further confrontation with antivirus companies, at a time when Microsoft needs all the friends it can get
Written by Leader , Contributor

Neville Chamberlain's infamous "Peace for our time" speech is history's most obvious demonstration of declarative statements that are just asking for trouble. Likewise, MP John Gummer's decision to show his four-year-old daughter happily munching on beef burgers in the lead up to the UK's mad cow crisis. History has taught us that if you ask for trouble, fate tends to be more than happy to oblige.

Microsoft's outgoing co-president Jim Allchin either hasn't studied history, or is just so demob happy that he doesn't care anymore — he is set to leave Microsoft after Vista ships. Either way, his statement this week that the security enhancements to Windows Vista were such that a user could get away without additional antivirus software will certainly come back to haunt him and his employer.

To be fair to Allchin, he was referring specifically to the fact he was happy for his seven-year-old son to surf the web with no antivirus software installed as the PC in question has been locked down to prevent access to any nefarious sites. However, the message to a security industry, already feeling threatened by what it sees as Microsoft's plans to steal a chunk of its market, will certainly be inflammatory. Security specialists such as McAfee have resorted to full-page advertisements in the Financial Times complaining that Microsoft is trying to prevent them accessing key aspects of the 64-bit kernel of Vista, which it claims is vital when it comes to creating comprehensive antivirus and anti-intrusion software.

With Vista behind schedule and struggling to justify its existence among a resurgent Apple, an increasingly mainstream Linux and Google's hosted application strategy, Microsoft needs all the friends it can get. Alienating the security industry when most of its critics are waiting for any opportunity to shred the next version of Windows is foolish.

The magnanimous figure of Ray Ozzie has done much to take the edge off Microsoft's Machiavellian reputation by encouraging more co-operation and less confrontation. The decision to partner with Linux specialist Novell, despite conspiracy theories about subversion from the inside, is an important step forward in Microsoft's rehabilitation. But the progress can be undone just as quickly as Allchin's soundbite demonstrates. Microsoft needs Vista to be a success and for that it needs the security vendors onside. Appeasement may have wrecked Chamberlain's legacy, but it could be key to saving Microsoft's.

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