Microsoft has confirmed plans to bundle anti-spyware protection into Windows Vista, a move that is sure to raise eyebrows among competitors and possibly antitrust regulators.
The Windows AntiSpyware product, which currently ships to consumers as a free standalone application, will be integrated into Vista, as is indicated in the newest beta build of Vista distributed to technical beta testers on Monday.
"The core Windows AntiSpyware functionality gets built in," said Greg Sullivan, lead Windows product manager. "For unmanaged environments—home and small business users—we want to provide base-level security services."
The actual anti-spyware code was not included in the second CTP (Community Technology Preview) release of Vista (Build 5213), but visual evidence was found in the "Security Center," a built-in feature that lets users manage settings for security patching, Internet options and the embedded firewall.
Microsoft is careful to note that many of the features included in the latest Vista preview are still being developed and "do not yet represent their final functionality or design."
"Some of the features in the October CTP that will undergo significant changes before the final version of Windows Vista ships," the company said, noting that the anti-spyware functionality "will continue to evolve throughout the development process."
The decision is seen as a bold gamble by the software giant, coming at a time when its emergence as a security vendor has already raised questions about software bundling and unfair competition.
Rival Symantec Corp. has nudged antitrust regulators at the European Union with an informal complaint about Microsofts security ambitions, and its not a stretch to imagine that competitors in the lucrative anti-spyware business will also raise a fuss.
In the past, rivals have bitterly complained about Microsofts integration of Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player, Outlook Express, Windows Messenger and Windows Movie Maker, among other technologies into the operating system.
Last year, the European Commission ruled that Microsoft must make available a version of Windows, minus Windows Media Player. The Windows XP N product was the result.
This time around, competitors worry that the inclusion of anti-virus and anti-spyware protection will give Microsoft a big push in the security market, especially among consumers.
A Microsoft spokesperson insists the company has worked "openly and collaboratively" with vendors in the security business.
"An integral part of our product development process is keeping competitors, regulators and the industry informed. We have kept the [European] Commission very closely informed of all Microsofts plans for new technology development, and we will continue to respond quickly and comprehensively to any request for information," she added.
Even as analysts and industry watchers debate the risky Microsoft move, some see value for consumers in the anti-spyware addition into Vista.
"At the end of the day, Microsoft has to do whats good for consumers. Theyre not stupid. Making Windows AntiSpyware a part of the Security Center means that anti-spyware technology will be pluggable in Windows, just like anti-virus and the like," said Robert McLaws, president of IT consulting firm Interscape Technologies Inc.
McLaws, a Microsoft MVP who runs the Longhorn Blogs network, believes competitors will still be able to plug anti-spyware offerings into Vista.
"[Youll] be able to change which spyware cleaner you use, just like you can change which mail client you use and which media player you use. While some vendors may cry foul, this is clearly a good thing for all anti-spyware vendors, and end users as well," he added.
Microsoft Watchs Mary Jo Foley contributed to this report.