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Perimeter

11/18/2008
08:55 PM
Rob Enderle
Rob Enderle
Commentary
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Death of the AV Vendor: Microsoft Offers Free AV

The fundamental problem with the AV market is that it makes antivirus vendors as much a part of the problem as they are a part of the solution. They are motivated to promote exposures to create a market for their offerings, and the end result has been a massive increase in malware and an inability by the ecosystem to effectively combat it. This will change that dramatically.

The fundamental problem with the AV market is that it makes antivirus vendors as much a part of the problem as they are a part of the solution. They are motivated to promote exposures to create a market for their offerings, and the end result has been a massive increase in malware and an inability by the ecosystem to effectively combat it. This will change that dramatically.This goes back to an early decision -- which was likely more along the lines of simply thinking the problem belonged to someone else -- by Microsoft to not address malware and instead allow the creation of an antivirus market.

This has created an upside-down market where the folks who are being paid to make buyers feel more secure are instead provided with incentives to create insecurity so that there is demand for their offerings. This process reflects horribly on Microsoft's desktop offerings and does constant damage to both the Windows and Microsoft brands. Fixing the Problem

The right thing to do would be to design and bundle an antivirus product into Windows, but that would now create an antitrust problem because Apple doesn't do that, and because it would cross into the same ugly territory that the European Union has already objected to with respect to Microsoft's Media Player. But given that antivirus products have to be substantially updated on a regular basis and people are used to downloading all or a large part of them, a free download became the way to both address the problem and avoid expensive antitrust judgments. This is what Microsoft announced this week: the replacement of OneCare with a free offering code-named Morro.

If people download and install the products en masse, it should dramatically reduce the incidence of infection and may remove Windows as a viable platform for most botnets. Botnets were already favoring Linux, anyway, and with Apple still relatively unprotected by a similar security focus, botmasters are likely to switch off Windows and onto Microsoft's competitors as their primary target -- at least to some degree, anyway.

OneCare

I've been using OneCare myself for the better part of a year now and have found it to be vastly less invasive and problematic than any of the other products I have previously used or tested. It isn't as complete as a number of the premium offerings, but it does provide comprehensive coverage. And as you would expect, it integrates better with Windows. During the transition from a paid product to a freebie, OneCare will lose some features like backup and centralized management. These features will move -- or are already found in products like Windows Live and Microsoft Home Media Server. Wrapping Up: The Death of the AV Market

If the free Windows product is adequate, why do you then need a product from one of the existing antivirus vendors? The answer is you don't. This should substantially reduce the market opportunity for this segment, which probably should have never grown to its current size, anyway.

These vendors are now likely to begin switching over to pounding on Apple and Linux more aggressively in order to make up for lost revenue. But Mac and Linux buyers have been anything but great antivirus customers, so the end result should be a massively smaller market largely focused on large enterprise and institutions -- and hoping that Microsoft doesn't make their corporate security offerings free as well.

-- Rob Enderle is President and Founder of Enderle Group. Special to Dark Reading.

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