After several months of subtle jabs exchanged between Microsoft and vendors in the security applications space, it appears as if a formal antitrust fight over the software giant's business practices could be just around the corner.
With rivals complaints over Microsofts move into the security applications space growing louder nearly every day, antitrust analysts said it appears likely that the software giant may soon again be locked in a battle to defend its business practices to government regulators.
In Europe, where Microsoft continues to battle with legislators over the terms of its 2004 antitrust settlement, regulators have already begun warning the firm against any efforts aimed at thinning competition in security market via the addition of security measures to Vista, the companys next-generation operating system, which is due out in November 2006.
And in the United States, rivals in the security applications market, including segment leaders and longtime Microsoft partners McAfee and Symantec, have begun publicly expressing similar concerns over the software giants future business plans as it builds a wide variety of security features into the OS.
Most recently, McAfee executives went on the offensive Oct. 3, questioning the implications of its partners intentions with Vista in a televised debate with the companys top security expert, Ben Fathi, corporate vice president of the Microsofts Security Technology Unit, and making the rounds with IT industry publications and analysts to make the companys concerns understood.
The security software maker contends that at least two elements of Vista, known as PatchGuard and Windows Security Center, will limit the ability of McAfee and other third-party vendors to integrate with the OS and continue to build technologies that offer comprehensive protection for computers running on Microsofts latest software.
Click here to read more about McAfees complaints about Vista security policies.
The lack of integration could put McAfee and others at a competitive disadvantage as Microsoft builds its own security applications into Vista, which is expected to gain the same dominant market share as its existing Windows platforms, McAfee officials said.
As the number of firms expressing such anxiety over Microsofts tactics with Vista and its other security products increases, so will the likelihood that the software giant will once again find itself defending its business strategies to regulators, experts believe, as it did in the late 90s over the inclusion of its Internet Explorer Web browser in the Windows OS, and again in 2003 over its integration of its Windows Media Player with its flagship software.
"This is deja vu all over again, as essentially these arguments over security and Microsofts use of its position in the operating system market to enter a new space are the same things we heard disputed in the companys earlier antitrust battles," said Melissa H. Maxman, partner in the Antitrust Group of Washington, D.C.-based law firm Baker Hostetler LLP.
"Microsoft is incredibly bold and brilliant with its go-to-market strategies, but because of their monopoly status with Windows, there will be scrutiny over this entry into security."
Past but not forgotten.