The slow poison of OneCare

Microsoft has admitted that OneCare is badly flawed. Its continued presence on the market is a disaster for customers and company alike

A week ago, we reported that Microsoft's OneCare Live security package had failed in a fundamental and exceptionally worrying fashion. In our opinion, it could no longer be considered fit for use — at least, pending an explanation from the company.

Now we have one. In an interview at CeBIT, Microsoft's European business security product manager told us that "bits and pieces are missing" and that it shouldn't have been rolled out when it was. The problems — including basic incompatibilities with other Microsoft products — "are being fixed". That's the wrong tense for a security product that's on the market, especially one in its fifth revision. Perhaps the problems are being fixed, but all the signs are that OneCare is a project in massive internal disarray; misbegotten, mismanaged and mismarketed.

Let's look back at what Microsoft said in 2003, when it bought the core technology behind OneCare. "Customers told us they needed a safer, more trustworthy computing experience to help combat the threats posed by those who write viruses and malicious code," said Mike Nash, corporate vice president of the Security Business Unit at Microsoft. Indeed so.

Trust and responsibility are key here. If in nearly four years Microsoft has failed to create a reliable product, it is irresponsible for it to market the result as the safer, more trustworthy package promised. By the company's own admission, OneCare is fundamentally untrustworthy. Continued efforts to foist it off on customers go beyond incompetence. OneCare is an insult, and the longer it stays on the market the stronger that insult gets.

Microsoft must withdraw the software immediately. It is poisoning any message the company has about being more responsible about security, listening to customers and being a trustworthy partner. It stands as evidence of incompetence and inability to innovate, of a cynical attitude to the market, of all the attributes Microsoft's competition — and, increasingly, its customers — associate with the brand.

This poison will touch everything Microsoft does, from the rest of the Live branded offerings to the core operating system and application products. For if the company doesn't care about its customers in one area, it cannot be expected to do so in any area.

If the company cannot operate with trust and responsibility then ultimately it cannot survive.