Microsoft Security Essentials Arrives: Too Little Protection Or Just Enough?

beta version

Microsoft Security Essentials, which until now was known by its code name Morro, is Microsoft's second stab at a comprehensive antivirus, antimalware product. The new free Microsoft Security Essentials replaces Windows Live OneCare, the company's consumer subscription antivirus product, which will officially be phased out as of June 30.

Microsoft said in November that it intended to end Live OneCare -- which flopped commercially -- while simultaneously announcing the impending launch of a free antimalware product, slated for release in mid-2009 and targeted at those who couldn't afford or wouldn't pay for consumer security software.

The Microsoft Security Essentials beta antimalware service will be available to anyone in the U.S., Israel or Brazil running on 32- and 64-bit Windows XP SP2, Vista or the upcoming Windows 7.

Windows users can download the free antimalware product from the Microsoft Connect page of the company's Web site, which requires a Windows Live ID.

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The Microsoft Security Essentials beta will offer Windows users antimalware designed to combat viruses, Trojan horses, Internet worms, botnets and spyware. Microsoft said it planned to release a full version of the product later this year.

Security vendors with a competitive free antivirus offering, such as AVG, maintain that Microsoft's new antimalware product likely won't impact their business or take significant market share from established security vendors.

"Microsoft has not shown very good success being able to communicate to the marketplace that they are a solid provider of security," said Bob Gagnon, AVG's vice president of sales for North America. "Microsoft is not seen as the expert in identifying threats."

Chris Schwartzbauer, senior vice president of marketing sales and business development at Shavlik Technologies, said Microsoft Security Essentials, which is largely targeted at the consumer and very-small-business markets, will not have any discernable impact on security vendors that cater to the midmarket and enterprise spaces. Microsoft Security Essentials fills a gap for companies that don't need heavyweight security solutions, he said.

"Most companies don't need all those big things; they need an antivirus solution and they need to patch their systems," Schwartzbauer said.

However, Gagnon said that Microsoft Security Essentials could cause some concern in the industry if it is incorporated into the new operating system and conflicts with third-party antivirus products installed by the user.

And it's currently unclear whether Microsoft intends to provide Microsoft Security Essentials as an add-on or bake it into its new Windows 7 operating system.

"It's all going to boil down to how Microsoft is going to embed this and incorporate this into Windows 7," Gagnon said. "If it is incorporated, that could pose some issues with us."

Meanwhile, Schwartzbauer said that Microsoft's beta antivirus launch was a barometer of a huge problem in the industry, possibly indicating that vital markets lacked basic security.

"What we've seen consistently over the years, when Microsoft announces a product the problem is fairly large and Microsoft has to address it," Schwartzbauer said. "There are enough bad pieces of software that are causing damage, and in addition to that the solutions in the market aren't getting it done. Microsoft addresses that."

However, Gagnon said that Microsoft Security Essentials might discourage some users from installing other, more robust security solutions, thinking that they're receiving adequate protection. Established security vendors such as Symantec and McAfee offer an array of security offerings, which include data loss prevention products, application firewalls, Web scanners and identity and access technologies, among others.

Gagnon maintained that a basic antimalware product by itself would not be enough to provide adequate protection, adding that AVG would beef up marketing efforts to educate and encourage users to consider paying for additional, more comprehensive security options, as well as the freebies.

"[Microsoft Security Essentials] could provide a false sense of security for the consumer," he said. "You may not be getting everything you need," he said.