It's no secret that - as the most widely deployed operating system - Microsoft Windows has the ignoble distinction of being the primary target of virus and malware developers everywhere. And when you couple that with the fact that many users of the Windows operating system fail to protect their machines - due to both ignorance of the problem and costs associated with virus protection software - you have the potential for rampant virus outbreaks. We've all seen it, time and time again.
Now, Microsoft is proposing to solve that problem with a new antivirus package. The product, code-named Morro, is slated to hit the market late next year. It will offer protection for viruses, spyware, rootkits, and trojans. Even more important? It will offer that protection for free.
Designed to protect XP, Vista, and Windows 7 operating systems, Morro will be based on functionality that already exists in other Microsoft virus solutions:
"Built on Microsoft's award-winning malware protection engine, 'Morro' will take advantage of the same core anti-malware technology that fuels the company's current line of security products, which have received the VB100 award from Virus Bulletin, Checkmark Certification from West Coast Labs and certification from the International Computer Security Association Labs."
An added benefit? Morro will be designed to run on a much smaller footprint than its predecessor, ensuring that computers receive adequate protection without sapping much-needed processing resources.
As a result of the new offering, Microsoft will be shuttering their paid virus protection service Windows Live OneCare, which has been provided on a subscription basis at a cost of $49.95 US for up to three machines.
Just in Time or Too Little Too Late?
This isn't a new problem, by any means. It has existed ever since users starting pulling a disk or tape out of one machine and putting it in another. The Internet only exacerbated it. Now, more than a decade after the problems started gaining momentum, Microsoft is taking more definitive action. Better late than never.
Microsoft sits among a group of companies who have made a business out of attempting to reduce the number of systems being exploited by nefarious programs. And yet Microsoft holds a unique position compared to the others. As a company, Microsoft actually has the ability to fix the problems and exploits at their source - within the operating system itself - rather than simply covering those holes with band-aids as outsiders have struggled to do.
The release of this free product promises to help Microsoft better bookend that problem, corralling viruses from both sides. But what does giving the product away do to a market that has grown up around Microsoft's vulnerability? And does the potential cannibalization of that market raise red flags from the antitrust watchdogs? Hard to say. It's likely that some of the current antivirus companies will survive by providing additional features and functionality - or by employing their technology in other ways. But - clearly - selling antivirus solutions just got a great deal more difficult.
Regardless of the business and market impact, working to make the antivirus software more accessible to a wider group of users will likely help stave off larger problems. And if the Microsoft solution actually begins to make a dent in reducing the number of costly outbreaks, isn't it worth it? At the very least, it's a step in the right direction.