Antivirus Market Shouldnt Fear

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2003-06-16 Print this article Print


If, on the other hand, Microsoft were to bundle antivirus software with Windows, there would be an outcry throughout the land about how it was destroying a vibrant market of competitors; at least there would be a credible argument for it, however. If every Windows desktop had antivirus protection and definition updates were built into Automatic Updates, it would mark a serious improvement to the overall security of what Microsoft likes to call the "ecosystem," even if the protection were all to come from one vendor. But since Microsoft plans to sell the update subscriptions, I still wonder how much of an impact it can have, especially in the corporate market.

Even though antivirus software isnt "middleware" under the absurd definition the government included in its consent decree with Microsoft, its hard to see how Microsoft could not treat it the same way—allowing OEMs to include, for instance, McAfee VirusScan instead of Microsofts product. Whether the company bundles or not, Microsoft is not going to succeed without making people want its product.

In fact, as just another competitor, Microsoft is at a disadvantage. It seems to me that there are advantages to getting your security software from a different vendor from your operating system software. There are advantages to getting them from the same vendor, too, but in conjunction with the reputation problem, I think this issue cuts against Microsoft. One day, through diligent work and aggressive marketing, Microsoft may overcome its only partially deserved reputation for being unconcerned with security—but were years away from that, no matter how good the company is in the interim.

The antivirus industry and many analysts have responded with concern, but I dont see a big threat to them. Even beyond the issues Ive cited above, the established vendors have opportunities to leapfrog Microsoft in security by integrating other types of protections, not to mention the fact that they offer support for platforms Microsoft avoids.

Heres a perfect example: Its silly that these spyware-removal utilities are a separate market from other types of threat protection, antivirus included. Normal consumers are baffled that they have to get two programs for both of them, and there are sufficient similarities that the same program should be doing the job. Bottom line: Look for some AV companies to buy some spyware-removal companies.

This is one way you can expect the other AV companies to respond, and many of them have been making generic "malware"-type definitions of threats for years anyway. Perhaps this takes a potential new market from them, but the distinction has always been artificial. In many ways spam is also similar, in that both antivirus and spam have to scan e-mail; why have two utilities scan separately? But spam is a big enough market opportunity that I dont expect vendors just to give it away.

Its never good news when a major company enters your market, but history has shown us that Microsoft cant take any old market it wants. From what we know now, it will have to come up with something really special if its going to be a big deal in antivirus.

Security Supersite Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983.

Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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