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Microsoft has entered the anti-virus market with the surprise acquisition of little known Romanian AV firm GeCAD Software. Financial terms of the deal, announced yesterday, were not disclosed.

In addition to developing new solutions, Microsoft said it would use GeCAD's expertise and technology to "enhance the Windows platform and extend support for third-party antivirus vendors".

"The knowledge and experience acquired from GeCAD will contribute to Microsoft's understanding of how systems are attacked, enabling Microsoft to more effectively focus on platform improvements".

Privately-held GeCAD Software, founded in 1992, has supplied antivirus and security products since 1994 under the name RAV AntiVirus. News of the acquisition has sparked concern that cross-platform support for virus and spam filtering could be dropped from RAV's portfolio. If that happens there are plenty of vendors to pick up the baton and we don't see this as a major concern.

Graham Titterington, principal analyst with Ovum, reckons the GeCAD Software acquisition is a sign that Microsoft wants to get financial payback from its multi-million dollar Trustworthy Computing initiative.

"Trustworthy Computing started as a measure to re-assure its key business customers that it was serious about their concerns, but eventually it had to become a profit centre," he says.

"Simply selling anti-virus software is clearly not the whole story but it's a good place to start."

But why buy a small AV vendor rather than a player with significant market share?

Buying indicates that Microsoft wants to keep control of its security agenda, according to Titterington.

"Microsoft doesn't want to acquire an existing portfolio of products, but rather wants a technological springboard to kick-start its own programmes.

"Microsoft is likely to build out from the consumer and desktop end of the market. Content filtering, personal firewalls and privacy tools are likely to follow soon, followed by Digital Rights Management products. Web services security will provide a second front by which Microsoft will expand into the security market, building on its .NET foundations."

The anti-virus market is famously conservative (desktop-focused vendors spent years rubbishing more innovative firms like MessageLabs, for example).

Maybe Microsoft's entry into the market will give the sector a much-needed shake up.

At the very least it will make the software giant more accountable for viral outbreaks.

Which is no bad thing. ®

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