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Microsoft enters the anti-virus bear-pit

Plus ça change

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Worldwide anti-virus software revenues hit $4bn last year, 13.6 per cent up on sales from 2004. According to the latest figures from analyst firm Gartner, the market is almost evenly split between enterprise and consumer sales, with shares of 51.5 per cent and 48.5 per cent respectively.

Gartner, like most observers, reckons Microsoft's entry will create stronger price competition among the commoditised consumer market for anti-virus software. A bigger change, only partly stimulated by Microsoft, is the move towards all-in-one security suites, which offer firewall and anti-spyware features as well as defences against computer viruses and Trojans.

Vendors such as Symantec and McAfee are giving greater emphasis to end-point security suites as part of their annual product updates, which tend to come out at this time of the year. Smaller vendors are also getting in on the act, albeit with product that aims more at small business than consumers.

For example Czech firm, GRISOFT, best known for its AVG anti-virus package that is free (at least in its basic form) for consumers, last week took the wraps off an integrated security product. AVG Internet Security 7.5 includes anti-virus, anti-spyware, anti-spam and firewall technologies.

Oi, Microsoft, get off our turf!

Security suppliers argue that their years of experience in the industry puts them ahead of security offerings from Microsoft. Some also feel that Redmond is being somewhat cheeky by trying to make money from the security shortcomings of its own software. But what really gets the goats of many are security enhancements planned for Windows Vista.

Some security vendors complain that Microsoft has "shut off" independent access to the Windows Vista kernel. McAfee, for example, went public with this criticism through an open letter from chief executive George Samenuk, published in the Financial Times last week.

His comments follow complaints from Symantec that Microsoft had withheld information about APIs for the Windows Defender anti-spyware product. On the other hand, Russian anti-virus Kaspersky Labs has defended Microsoft by saying Vista kernel protection doesn't impede the work of security developers.

All this controversy will doubtless make Virus Bulletin an interesting show. And this year, Microsoft will be entering the bearpit with more personnel than the affable Abrams, its former worker who now sits on the other side of the fence. ®

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