Microsoft will ship Windows 8 with built-in anti-virus software.
That’s the big news that is no doubt being discussed furtively at the watercoolers of computer security companies around the world today.
What will it mean to them? A quick glance at Twitter reveals that some people already have pretty good ideas about how the news might have been received..
But seriously, is this good news for the existing anti-virus companies and – more importantly – consumers?
Microsoft has been making a free anti-virus software available for a couple of years, in the form of Microsoft Security Essentials. But you had to download it from the internet – it wasn’t bundled with Windows itself.
Microsoft has been bundling a program called Windows Defender with Windows 7, Windows XP and Vista, but it doesn’t really compare to a proper anti-virus product.
With Windows 8, it sounds as if Windows Defender will be beefed up to incorporate the functionality of Microsoft Security Essentials. Effectively, Windows 8 users will be getting out-of-the-box protection against malware, as well as a firewall and parental controls.
So, it’s a case of good news and bad news.
Good news for..
Consumers. Anything which encourages Joe User to run up-to-date anti-virus software has to be a positive thing. There are too many poorly protected home computers out there, which have been commandeered into botnets.
But at the same time it’s also good news for..
Malware authors. You don’t think they’re going to ignore this development, do you? If most budget-conscious home users stick with Microsoft’s built-in offering, then surely the first thing the bad guys will do is make sure their latest creation can slip past Microsoft’s scanner.
No doubt they’ll have a new template for their fake anti-virus alerts too.
Bad news for..
Security vendors. It’s bad news for those security vendors who rely heavily on consumer sales of their software. It’s questionable as to whether many home users will want to reach into their pockets and pay for security from them if there’s already one built into Windows 8.
Frankly, it’s their own fault. The two big security hippopotamuses have had years of opportunity to gobble up the end-user market, and yet still millions of home users were infected by malware, spyware and pop-ups each year.
It’s understandable that Microsoft want to clean up the image of Windows – and if commercial anti-virus vendors haven’t managed to do the job, then why shouldn’t they do it themselves?
Microsoft’s plans for Windows 8 might mean knee jerk reactions from some vendors, and even perhaps more price-cuts and giveaways in an already aggressive market.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the legal eagles at rival security firms accused Microsoft of anti-competitive practices, and forced the software giant to offer users security products from a selection of different vendors, just as happened in the case of Internet Explorer.
But it’s not just some security vendors who may struggle, with Microsoft’s decision. There’s another group who may find life isn’t too rosey in the Windows 8 world..
Consumers. Yes, it could be bad news for users too. At least some of them. The thought of running the same anti-virus product as every other home user on the planet, gives me shivers. A security monoculture is not a good thing.
Clued-up folks may well choose to use a non-Microsoft anti-virus (either free or commercial) just to not go with the crowd.
We certainly live in interesting times.
Me? I welcome Microsoft doing more to protect home users from the huge problem of malware, but at the same time I’m pleased to say I don’t work for a company which relies on anti-virus sales to home users.Follow @gcluley