Microsoft To Unveil Free Beta Antimalware Service Tuesday

Altogether, Microsoft Security Essentials, which up until now was code- named Morro, is a free service that will offer comprehensive antimalware to combat viruses, Trojans, Internet worms, botnets and spyware. A full version of the service will be released later this year.

The service will protect users' PCs on XP and Vista and will give an added boost to the impending release of Windows 7, which will be available in October.

The software giant's impending launch of Microsoft Security Essentials comes as the company phases out the last vestiges of its subscription-based consumer antivirus product, Live OneCare, which was a commercial flop. The consumer product, which cost users $49.99 a year to cover three PCs, captured less than 2 percent of the security market share since its launch almost three years ago.

Microsoft announced in November 2008 that it planned to discontinue its Live OneCare product by June 30, replacing it with the release of a free consumer antivirus product during the first half of 2009.

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Industry analysts contend that Microsoft Security Essentials will be on par with basic consumer antivirus and antimalware products from security industry competitors Symantec, McAfee and Trend Micro, which cost about $40 retail.

Symantec and McAfee have both downplayed the upcoming release of Microsoft Security Essentials, contending that the free product will likely not provide the breadth and quality of technologies that they offer in their comprehensive security suites and high-end point products, such as application firewalls, data loss prevention, backup and recovery, and encryption technologies. Others speculated that the free product might be nothing more than Microsoft taking another stab at entering the antivirus space with a revamped version of OneCare.

However, Microsoft maintained that the free service would not compete with security vendors but was instead intended for audiences that might not otherwise afford or have access to security software. In particular, Microsoft said that the service would target developing markets such as Brazil and China, which require increased IT security infrastructure but whose residents often lack financial resources to buy and install security software.

Over the last few years, Microsoft has made more inroads into the PC security space, raising tensions as it continued to compete with security giants such as Symantec and McAfee. The software giant was criticized by competitors in 2006 and 2007 for the release of its "secure" operating system Windows Vista, who claimed that Microsoft would deny them access to the heart of the operating system.

However, executives at AVG, a security company with a free antivirus offering, maintained that Microsoft's impending release of Security Essentials would not threaten their core business.

J.R. Smith, AVG CEO, said that AVG generated business by convincing users that they needed more than basic antivirus once they started using the company's free service.

"We realized a long time ago that basic AV is pretty commoditized," Smith said. "We've been making our living by making people understand there's more to it than that."

Smith said that AVG applauded Microsoft's efforts to distribute security software to a broad market, contending that it would raise general awareness about the need for security software, especially when surfing the Web.

"(Microsoft is) moving in parallel with their new operating system and probably focused on netbooks and the lower end of the market, where people do need more protection," Smith said. "They're going to increase awareness, and that's going to be good for all of us."