Microsoft moved a step closer to becoming a key player in the Internet security business with the announcement Thursday of a new enterprise-class anti-spyware product featuring technology to thwart viruses, worms and kernel rootkits.
The new offering, dubbed Microsoft Client Protection, will go into limited beta before year-end with a full rollout expected in 2006.
Details on pricing and licensing are being kept under wraps.
The announcement, which came during a meeting between chief executive Steve Ballmer and business partners in Munich, Germany, is the culmination of a year-long push by the worlds largest software maker to take on entrenched security vendors in the anti-virus/anti-spyware business.
Chairman Bill Gates first signaled the companys plans at the RSA Security confab in February and, since then, Microsoft has released a beta of Windows OneCare, a subscription-based service that bundles anti-virus, anti-spyware, firewall protection and PC cleanup tools.
Microsoft Client Protection has been built largely through acquisitions. The virus-scanning engine comes from GeCAD Software, a Romanian anti-virus firm purchased in 2003, while the anti-spyware technology comes from Giant Software, a New York-based startup acquired last December.
Amy Roberts, director of product management at Microsofts security technology unit, said the plan is to make the offering centrally manageable with the ability to plugging into Active Directory and other existing infrastructure.
The Microsoft Client Protection product will also include an integrated management console and prioritized reports and alerts features.
"The product is currently in development and we expect to have an early beta to a limited set of customers later this year," Roberts said in an interview with Ziff Davis Internet News.
Rootkit detection and protection technology from the companys in-house Strider project will also find a home in the new product.
Microsoft has already added rootkit detection to its freely distributed malicious software removal tool but the plan to integrate it with Microsoft Client Protection is the first time the research work will find a home in a paid product.
Sources tell Ziff Davis Internet News that Strider anti-rootkit technology will also be integrated with the free, standalone anti-spyware application for consumers and the Windows OneCare service.
Roberts also confirmed that OneCare will be fitted with spyware protection capabilities in the near future.
"The consumer anti-spyware will remain free to licensed Windows customers. The plan is to product anti-spyware within OneCare," she explained.
Without a doubt, the Microsoft Client Protection rollout will significantly reshape the enterprise desktop security market but analysts believe incumbents like Symantec Corp., McAfee Inc., and Computer Associates International Inc. will continue to dominate for some time.
Vice president of research at Gartner Inc., John Pescatore, reckons Microsoft will appeal mostly to small and medium-sized businesses. "Larger companies that have been using McAfee and Symantec for 10 years are not going to jump on the first version of a Microsoft product. Thats just not going to happen," Pescatore said.
The Gartner analyst argues that Microsoft can make a dent by pushing the envelope on pricing. He expects Microsoft to price its offering about 20 percent lower than similar products from Symantec and McAfee.
"Microsoft has to come in cheaper to get anyone to switch. I think if they really integrate anti-spyware and make it one price, that will be a big selling point," Pescatore said. McAfee and Symantec currently charges extra to plug in an anti-spyware module to its desktop anti-virus offerings.