Microsoft Starts Testing Windows OneCare Security Subscription Service

In a statement, Microsoft disclosed a few--but not many--details about the upcoming PC security subscription service.

The effort, which had gone by the "A1" code name, will be called Windows OneCare and hit public beta later this year, Microsoft said.

The service's goal is to address "core safety concerns like worms, viruses, and spyware," Microsoft said in a statement. Besides automatic anti-virus, anti-spyware updates and two-way firewall protection, customers can schedule periodic disk clean up, disk defragmentation, and file repair.

The solution will include technologies the company acquired with GeCAD, GIANT Company Software and Sybari, a Microsoft spokeswoman said.

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The company is still not talking about such key subjects as distribution or pricing, although sources say the consumer-oriented product will be delivered via both the Microsoft Network (MSN) itself and cable company partners.

One source close to Microsoft told CRN last month that the company has already signed up one major cable provider to offer this service at what will probably be a $10 per month incremental fee above and beyond the usual broadband charges. Microsoft would not comment.

Above and beyond that, such an offering could help Microsoft's MSN service counter America Online's very public "safe Internet" push, a partner source said.

While this offering will be consumer oriented, the company could bring similar services longer term to small and medium sized businesses via bCentral and MBS, observers said.

A lot of what's to come in Windows OneCare is already in Windows XP. And some features, notably the two-way firewall, Microsoft has promised for the next Longhorn release of Windows, said Paul DeGroot, analyst with Directions On Microsoft, the Kirkland, Wash.-based researcher. He noted that MSN is becoming a vehicle for distributing some features and functions that Microsoft wants to get out before Longhorn. He cited tabbed browsing as another example.

In the security realm, Microsoft is treading a fine line. On the one hand, it has to show that it is taking security threats seriously enough to invest in protection, on the other it is risky for it to alienate or injure companies like Symantec, which have invested heavily in their own security offerings.

"Microsoft has to be careful with Symantec, McAfee, and even CA and Trend Micro," said David Friedlander, senior analyst with Forrester Research, Cambridge, Mass.

He also noted it was uncertain how much Microsoft can charge for a security service. "Will customers trust Microsoft enough to buy a security product from them as well as an operating system that needs to be protected? Those are two different questions."

DeGroot said it was unclear if it would be in Microsoft's best interest to winnow down the field of anti-virus or security vendors. The company obviously wants to bolster revenues, but updating anti-virus signatures is a time-consuming, expensive and never-ending chore. In addition, providing antivirus updates implies some legal responsibilities that might make the company nervous, he said.