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I’ve hemmed and hawed about saying anything about Microsoft Security Essentials. However, I’m getting requests as to my position on the issue.

Generally, my feelings on MSE are as follows:

  • It is not a Microsoft conspiracy to take over the world, etc. They had to do this in order to beat off Apple, and improve their security posture as a company. They have removed millions of infections using the MSRT tool and they really do need to do something about machines that are not protected — for the good of the rest of us. It is ultimately good for the consumer.
  • It will probably not have a major impact on the big incumbent players, but it will likely have a dramatic effect on the free AV players, like AVG and Avira, because many of their installs come from “experts” installing it on PCs (people like your neighbor, or a family member, who installs it on your behalf). These people will likely move to the Microsoft solution. This will take some time but the risk is there. Nag screens, toolbar installs, misleading messages to upgrade, all efforts to monetize a free product piss off users to no end.

  • The incumbents should not underestimate the wrath that many users have about their products. It’s not all fair — there have been many improvements (especially Symantec, which has done a truly remarkable job with their latest releases). But the anger is there, and you see it all the time on listservs, forums, etc. This emotional reaction may play a part in Microsoft getting traction.
  • The Microsoft product isn’t bad at all, unlike past efforts on their part (like the free antivirus tool in DOS 5, which was a joke). Decent detections, reasonable footprint. However, it does not have email AV functionality and not all the bells and whistles that the suites have. Nevertheless, 2-way firewall functionality is built-in to Windows 7, so that is a lesser issue.
  • The idea that consumers will want a broader, more complete product isn’t totally incorrect. We’ve seen this with the freebie players — there are about 2% of their user base upgrade to the more complete versions. The people with no money will use the free Microsoft product. The people who want to insure a more comprehensive security posture will buy the full suites from Norton, McAfee. Name brand still means a lot in this market (it’s worth noting that our surveys indicate that about 40% of the market has suites, vs. 60% that use a dedicated AV).
  • The OEMs like Dell are going to continue to push suites, because they get a lot of money from Symantec and McAfee for pre-installs. Retailers will go the same way — don’t expect Geek Squad to start installing the free product (at least in-store). There’s a lot of money at stake.

  • This download is not going to come through Windows Update, which is a big deal. Users will need to proactively download it from the Microsoft website or from places like Download.com. It will also not be OEMed, at least in the major markets (possibly in the third world, but that’s just speculation).
  • A lot of people will download it just to remove an infection that their existing antivirus product didn’t catch. This puts the very profitable scan-and-scare model at risk.
  • The one space that will not be significantly affected is the enterprise/SME side. The MSE product is not manageable, and hence is not really usable in environments over 25 users. (Microsoft does restrict usage to home networks only, although realistically most micro-SMEs won’t read the fine print).
  • Sunbelt is not significantly affected by this release. Years ago, Microsoft purchased our development partner at the time, Giant Company, in order to release a free antispyware product. At that point, I decided not to ever be at the mercy of a Microsoft release, and now 90% of our sales come from the enterprise (this does not mean we’re exiting the consumer market, it’s just that we are not going to let this business get “too big to fail” — we have a consumer product, which is well priced and well supported, and we’ll continue to innovate in this area). As regards the enterprise, we have seen Microsoft bundling ForeFront for free in some cases, but it’s not a major issue. Let’s hope it stays that way.

Alex Eckelberry