Gates: Independent Browser, Free Spyware On Tap As Part Of Security Efforts

Speaking in a keynote address at the RSA Conference 2005 in San Francisco, Gates outlined these and other efforts Microsoft, Redmond, Wash., is taking to make Windows and its related applications more secure.

The company has made a commitment to provide more secure software through R&D, backed up by a series of acquisitions in the past year and a half to add antivirus and antispyware software to its portfolio.

"We think about [security] as the concerns around trustworthy computing," Gates told attendees in the kickoff speech of the year's biggest IT security conference. "Everything from privacy, to keeping documents confidential [to] a broad range of things we need to make sure are kept to a minimum and won't hold us back from taking advantage of the Internet. That is the top priority for Microsoft [now], and I can foresee it will remain our top priority."

As part of these efforts, Microsoft is planning a release of Internet Explorer 7.0 independent of Windows. The new version of the browser, which will be in beta by early summer, will have security updates that include technology to thwart phishing, which lures e-mail users to bogus Web sites in an effort to obtain user identity and other sensitive information.

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Though Microsoft first launched IE independently of Windows, it has been available only as part of the operating system since the Windows 2000 release. In fact, during the Microsoft antitrust case, Microsoft executives argued that divorcing IE from Windows would in effect "break" the operating system. However, given that the open-source Firefox browser from Mozilla is gaining ground on IE, it's not surprising that Microsoft once again plans to release its improved browser as an independent product.

Gates said that IE 7.0 will be available for computers running Windows XP with Service Pack 2, and will also be part of the next release of Windows, code-named Longhorn, which is expected next year.

Microsoft also plans to release its antispyware product, which is currently in beta testing, free of charge to all Windows licensees as part of its security efforts, Gates said.

"We looked hard at the nature of this problem and we made a decision that this antispyware capability will become something available at no additional charge to Windows users," Gates said. "We're very excited we've got this technology that really addresses what is a burning need for our users."

Microsoft's antispyware efforts were bolstered by its purchase of Giant Software, a security ISV, last December. The company also has added two antivirus software vendors to its cache of security purchases in the past year and a half. Just last week Microsoft unveiled a deal to buy antivirus vendor Sybari, and the software giant also acquired antivirus ISV GeCad in 2003.

Gates said in his keynote that Microsoft will deliver its version of antivirus software from these purchases by the end of the year. "We're looking at building the ultimate mail virus protection [product]," he said.

In addition, Microsoft plans to beta test in March a new update center for all of its products that customers of all sizes can leverage to access the latest security updates to Microsoft's portfolio, Gates said. "Each class of user has an interface and connection appropriate to them and it works across the different products," he said.