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Avast still focused on Windows, despite new Mac security app

Czech firm aims to checkmate VXers

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Free security software outfit Avast reckons unprotected Windows desktops still offer its greatest potential area for growth, despite its huge existing Windows user-base of 130 million active users.

In addition to pushing out its technology to small businesses, the Czech Republic-based firm plans to offer an Android-based version of its software (designed primarily to protect jailbroken devices) as well as a personal VPN application.

Avast released a new Mac antivirus beta at the beginning of June. The security firm previously offered a paid-for Mac security product but this was a marginal offering. "It wasn't good enough to be free," joked Avast chief exec Vince Steckler.

Ondrej Vlcek, CTO at Avast, told the days when Macs were a "fringe target" for malware authors are over. "As Mac sales surge it is becoming a natural target for malware such as the MacDefender fake antivirus," he said.

"The Mac platform isn't any safer," he added.

Avast has written more than 3 million signatures for its Windows anti-virus software compared to 1,000 for its Mac security product. Nonetheless the firm reckons (probably correctly) that there's now money to be made from Mac malware and hence a need for protection.

Avast's product will compete with Sophos's free-of-charge Mac security software and paid-for applications but the focus of the firm remains firmly on the Windows desktop.

Milos Korenko, marketing director at Avast, told El Reg that despite its maturity, the Windows desktop anti-virus market is far from saturated. "The growth in PC usage in China and India combined with the growing use of two or three PCs per home in the West means there are as many as 600 million unprotected machines out there," Korenko, who used to work with Avast's arch-rival AVG said. "We want to grow our user base to 300 million."

"All this can happen hand-in-hand with our parallel growth onto new platforms, such as Macs," he added.

Avast aims to make its technology more attractive to potential users compared to other freebie scanners from AVG, Avira and Microsoft through a variety of tactics. It wants to make its software speedy by avoiding any temptation to add search toolbars or other performance draggers. "Search toolbars would pump revenue in the short term but lose the community in the longer term," explained Steckler.

Similarly the firm wants to avoid the use of intrusive pop-ups in favour of "low-key" incentives to encourage established users into paying for a paid-for product which bundles extra features such as a sandbox and personal firewall. Avast places great reliance on tech support from its community of users.

Avast execs said that by maintaining a direct relationship with users it can cut out the middlemen – computer equipment manufacturers such as HP, and retailers such as Dixon. It reckons HP charges $250m to distribute Symantec's Norton security software on new PCs. Such deals make sense but only reach break-even after two years.

The Czech-based security firm does use regional distributors and resellers, especially in its main sales channels such as the US, France and Brazil, but it prefers to stay away from pre-loaded software or retail channels, which are prime distribution channels for the like of Symantec and McAfee.

Steckler said that free scanners were either "as good as or better than" paid products. Korenko added that, perhaps surprisingly, Microsoft was one of its top referrers. "Most home users don't look at features so we rely on tech-savvy influencers to point users in our direction," he concluded. ®

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

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