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Microsoft will omit anti-virus protection in Vista, the next version of Windows, which it plans to ship late this year. As with previous versions of Windows dating back to Windows 2000 at least, Redmond is promoting Vista as a landmark improvement in Windows security.

Jim Allchin, co-president of Microsoft's platform products and services division, told reseller magazineCRN that safety and security, improved user experience, and mobility features will be key additions in Vista. But there will be no anti-virus software, the Windows development supremo said during a questions and answers session with CRN. For unspecified business (not technical) reasons, Microsoft will sell anti-virus protection to consumers through its OneCare online backup and security service.

Symantec, though its assisted enquiries from investigators, has said it would rather take on Microsoft in the marketplace than cry foul to regulators over Microsoft's entry into the consumer anti-virus marketplace. McAfee has made no suggestion it's about to object to Redmond's encroachment on it traditional turf, either. So it seems Microsoft has either decided anti-virus technology is better delivered as a service or else figured out that's a better business model to pursue.

We're not sure which because Allchin ducked CRN's question on why anti-virus software won't feature in Vista by saying the answer was "complicated", but not based on technical concerns. Curiously, basic anti-spyware protection - via Windows Defender - will feature in Vista.

Vista will also include a major revamp of Internet Explorer (IE 7), features designed to thwart phishing, and group policy management features that make it easier to control the use of USB devices. Windows' built-in firewall will be revamped to filter malicious traffic originating from a Vista PC as well as ingress filtering, the half on the equation that came with Windows XP.

Allchin said security in Vista is far improved from Windows XP SP2, whose heavily touted security features include technology that has made computer worms (though not Trojans based on the recent Windows Meta File vulnerability) less of a problem. "SP2 was a very good system, but compared to Vista it's night and day," Allchin said.

In a separate Q&A session, Allchin was grilled by Redmond's local paper, The Seattle Times, during which he explained that Microsoft has changed its development program with Vista to include fewer release candidates for the operating system. New community-technology previews, with more frequent drops targeted at different audiences, will speed the development process, Allchin said.

The feature set in Vista has now been finalised and Microsoft's focus has moved on to quality assurance. "Between now and RTM we're doing nothing but listening to usability feedback, improving performance and quality," Allchin told CRN. ®

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