MICROSOFT PROMISES FREE SECURITY SOFTWARE, KILLS ONECARE

OneCareRIP That rumbling you feel is a seismic shift in the field of security software. This will affect every single one of you and cause major changes in the entire industry.

Microsoft announced today that it will deliver free antivirus and anti-spyware software for all Windows computers, beginning in the second half of 2009.

Windows Live OneCare will be phased out and it will no longer be sold after June 30, 2009.

From the press release:

“Code-named “Morro,” this streamlined solution will be available in the second half of 2009 and will provide comprehensive protection from malware including viruses, spyware, rootkits and trojans. This new solution, to be offered at no charge to consumers, will be architected for a smaller footprint that will use fewer computing resources, making it ideal for low-bandwidth scenarios or less powerful PCs. As part of Microsoft’s move to focus on this simplified offering, the company also announced today that it will discontinue retail sales of its Windows Live OneCare subscription service effective June 30, 2009.”

Here’s the Microsoft press release, and the post on the OneCare blog. There are a few more details in this interview with Microsoft’s senior director of product management.

As far as I know, this is completely unexpected. No one seems to have had a clue it was coming. There have been rumors about an imminent new version of Windows Live OneCare; now there’s no word whether it will ever be seen. When Microsoft officially released Small Business Server 2008 last week, one of its features was a new product, Windows Live OneCare for Server, and central management for up to 25 workstations running OneCare. To me, that was one of the compelling features of the new SBS, but it is now dead on arrival; it should not be installed and will not be supported after June 30, 2009.

I can easily imagine that Microsoft is frustrated. Windows is frequently blamed for the onslaught of viruses and malware but computer users around the world have resisted buying subscriptions to security software for a variety of reasons: they can’t afford it; they don’t understand that it’s necessary; they don’t keep it current or they never activate an expired trial subscription; or their computers are underpowered for the security suites that are currently available. It’s a particular problem outside the United States, where the percentage of unprotected computers is much higher. The press release suggests that Microsoft particularly wants to provide protection for emerging markets and the new low-powered netbooks and OLBCs.

Microsoft claims that it will deliver new software (not a repackaged version of OneCare) which includes only the security protection, with the simplest, least intrusive, and smallest footprint possible. It will not be automatically included with every copy of Windows but it will be free and presumably so easy to obtain that it might as well be built-in.

I assumed that Microsoft had not done this up to now because it would be attacked as “anticompetitive” by the other security software companies. Apparently Microsoft thinks it can avoid those claims – or who knows, maybe it thinks it’s the right thing to do and is willing to see how it plays out. Norton, McAfee and the rest will have to adapt – maybe by criticizing Microsoft’s software, maybe by adding value to it with other features, maybe by exiting the field and finding something else to do.

ONECARE SUBSCRIBERS: Do not let your subscriptions lapse! OneCare will be fully supported and updated through June 30, 2009 and we will have much more information before then about our options. If your subscription expires on April 30 and you have to pay $49.99 for two months of updates, I’m going to insist that you renew without hesitation. I don’t want anyone running a PC without current anti-malware protection – this is not an excuse to procrastinate!

COMPUTER BUYERS: If you buy a new computer, get it protected! If you have to pay $49.99 for OneCare and you don’t get a full year out of it, so it goes. You’ll get three months or six months or eight months, and that’s just fine. Or get another product, I don’t care. As long as your security, backup and update needs are covered, I don’t care – but this is not an excuse to procrastinate.

[Update 11/20: It’s likely that Microsoft will keep OneCare updated for the entire subscription term. See this post and watch for more information to follow.]

A few more points:

Microsoft Equipt was the ill-fated subscription package bundling OneCare with Microsoft Office 2007 Home and Student Edition, sold only through Circuit City. Microsoft never committed to it, Circuit City is defunct, and Equipt is being withdrawn from the market.

How could this major decision be made with so little notice that it kills a key feature of a major product launched last week? Is the SBS team angry, embarrassed, or resigned?

OneCare includes features that its users depend on – printer sharing, backups, system maintenance, attention to Windows and other Microsoft updates, control over the firewall, and control over startup programs. Everything that needs attention is reported by a single icon, and necessary actions are described in a consistent interface. If OneCare is discontinued, will something else be developed to provide those functions? Don’t tell me that products from third parties will take over – I’ll cry, really I will.

Will the new software run on servers? Small businesses really need easy software to protect servers and provide centralized security management. The choices now are difficult and expensive.

This is a remarkable change that will affect all of us. I hope it’s for the better but boy, are there a lot of questions left to be answered. More to come!