Following the release on Monday of the latest beta of Windows Vista, Microsoft has confirmed that it plans to integrate its antispyware software into the operating system. The move could set Microsoft in a pitched battle against Internet security vendors and potentially government antitrust regulators as the company prepares for the 2006 release of Windows Vista.
This second Community Technology Preview (CTP) for Vista does not include any actual antispyware code. However, reports indicate that there was visual evidence of a new built-in, security-center feature through which users will be able to manage settings for patches and other security options, including antispyware settings.
Microsoft cautioned that the Vista October CTP is just a preview and contains many features that still are under development, which means these features might or might not make it to the final release.
In the wake of company's recent announcement about readying antivirus software for desktops, Graham Cluley, an analyst at Sophos, warned that the company's moves represent a shot across the bow of those vendors who have a significant stake in the consumer-security market.
Microsoft's move into the security space could have industry rivals leveling charges of unfair competition. According to an eWeek report, Symantec already is gearing up for a fight by filing an informal complaint with European Union antitrust regulators regarding steps Microsoft has taken to enter the security space.
Boon for Home Users
Still, said Cluley, companies probably will not want to rely on built-in protection for Windows Vista and instead will continue to purchase products that they know will provide them with the highest level of protection, responsiveness, and service against malicious threats.
However, with most consumers woefully unprepared for protecting their home machines from malicious attacks, the inclusion of a built-in antispyware product will be a good thing for them, said Cluley. He pointed out that, in contrast to businesses, home users weigh price more heavily than quality, responsiveness, and service when choosing security software.
"Home users desperately need antispyware protection in Windows to help keep their systems secure," he said. "It might not be the very best protection, but it's better than nothing at all."
Overall, said Cluley, the news that Microsoft will be bundling its antispyware product in Windows Vista is good news for home users, many of whom still do not recognize the threat spyware poses and do not realize they need protection.
Not an Easy Sell
Analysts are not considering this move a slam dunk for Microsoft. The company faces two major challenges as it attempts to recast itself as a serious security player. First, said Cluley, Microsoft will have to adjust to a different set of expectations from its antispyware users. Computer users typically expect their security vendors to respond much more quickly to problems than Microsoft is accustomed to responding to problems in its operating system.
"Customers expect fixes within minutes rather than months," Cluley said.
The second major challenge for Microsoft, Cluley said, is basic public relations. For instance, Microsoft just announced that one of the critical security patches it released last week has caused serious problems for some users installing it. With Microsoft's stature as the world's largest software developer, these revelations lead to major headlines.
Cluley said that the company and consumers should expect hackers to target the operating system and "use every opportunity to disable [the antispyware's] functionality."
Starting in February 2005, shortly after Microsoft's antispyware software entered its first beta, malware was written to disable the software. Since that time, according to Cluley, hundreds of other attacks have included "turning off Microsoft antispyware as a standard part of their arsenal."