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by Franki

Microsoft has announced plans to offer a paid subscription service to remove malicious software like Viruses, Worms, Trojans and Spyware from their subscribers computers as well as providing backup services and a two way firewall. The new service is to be called “Onecare” and it’s announcement has lead to a great deal of discussion. The reason for the discussion is simply because Microsoft are often the reason that new viruses are introduced. Bugs in their software allow remote exploitation of machines over the Internet (often using ActiveX technology or other flaws in Internet Explorer) and somebody decides to create a new Virus to take advantage of the new flaw to spread to other machines.

The announcement has lead to many comments along the lines of: “Wow, Microsoft have just worked out how to turn their dismal security record into a revenue stream.” and: “Microsoft really have turned their security bugs into features”. This ZDnet spoof even likens Onecare to a Mafia protection racket.

There are lots of possible repercussions of the move. Up until recently, Microsoft have had a fairly good relationship with anti-virus companies like Symantec, Trend Micro, Mcaffee and the rest. Now that Microsoft is moving onto their turf in a major way, the water might get somewhat colder. The anti-virus companies may well start looking to other Operating Systems to replace the income Microsoft is likely to take from them. They may also become part of another anti-competitive lawsuit against MS in the future. I imagine that newer versions of Windows will prompt people to subscribe to their service during the install or ‘first use’ routines, meaning they get to embed it into their Operating System to get the same competitive advantage they do with Internet Explorer.

This really shouldn’t be surprising anyone in the industry though. Microsoft has always gone after any potentially profitable industry related to their Operating System. Be it Web browsers, Instant messaging, digital music, photo and video editing, they saw the dollar signs and off they went. If you make an application that has mainstream possibilities, you can bet that sooner or later Microsoft will join the party and have a go at pushing you out, (ask Netscape for example).

One problem Microsoft have always had with their software, is that it’s a one off payment. You buy the software license and you use it. There is no ongoing revenue stream, (unless you need support that is). With this new subscription service Microsoft gets to sell you the software, and then they get to charge you an ongoing fee to keep it running properly. They have long said that subscription services were the future, it just came as a surprise to many that this is the service they are going to start the ball rolling with. My final word on the subject is that although I am extremely sceptical that a company should profit from selling buggy security flaw ridden software. If it lessens the amount of spyware/virus problems I have to fix then I’m not that fussed about it. But if any of the other anti-virus companies make a competing service, I’ll be recommending them to my clients rather then Microsoft because security software can often create new remote compromise security holes, and if there is one thing Microsoft does really well, it’s creating great remote compromise flaws, (Ms Blaster anyone?)

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