RSA: Microsoft’s Free Anti-Spyware Challenges New Market

Microsoft continued to create a sense of disruption in the security industry this week, with Bill Gates announcing that his company’s AntiSpyWare software will be made available at no cost in a consumer edition, and will also be released as a for-pay, managed offering for enterprise users. The news arrives just as security vendors are ramping up their own enterprise offerings in the fledgling category, meaning network managers will once again choose whether to jump in with what’s currently available or wait on Redmond.

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Last week the company announced its intent to purchase Sybari, a security software company, in a move that put companies like McAfee and Symantec on notice that they may soon be facing competition from Redmond. That acquisition on the minds of officials from both companies Symantec CEO John Thompson, who dismissed Microsoft’s security efforts as “juvenile” and said “I’m not sure their [Microsoft’s] software is sufficient for large enterprises, and they may be incapable of doing so.”

Similarly, McAfee’s president told reporters “the product Microsoft bought is one that we are familiar with. It’s a product we compete against and beat on a regular basis.”

Microsoft’s anti-spyware, currently in beta and recently the target of a malware attack, offering addresses a different niche from the ones it will tackle with its Sybari purchase, though, and the competitive threat it poses is already clear in this area.

Companies with consumer products will have to compete with a free, bundled anti-spyware tool, as their other offerings are forced to compete with Microsoft’s in-house developers at the enterprise level. In the case of McAfee, the latest announcement from Microsoft comes before it has its own enterprise offering, Anti-Spyware Enterprise, on the market. Symantec appears more insulated from Microsoft’s overtures, to the extent its own anti-spyware functionality is a component of other security offerings.

According to a recent Forrester Research report, 80 percent of the companies it surveyed have some sort of anti-spyware tool in place, though many use the free, independently developed offerings that first defined the category. However, the firm’s report also indicates that 65 percent of companies will be upgrading their anti-spyware software this year, providing an opening for commercial offerings.

Microsoft’s product is due for another beta release in the coming months. No information has been set on pricing for the enterprise offering. According to Gates, the consumer product will be available only to registered owners of legal copies of Windows XP.

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