Microsoft Monitoring and Management for the Middle

Windows Live OneCare brings monitoring, management, reports and more, long available for single users and groups of more than 50, to small user groups.

Microsoft has tweaked its Windows Live OneCare self-updating PC care service to better meet the needs of small user group environments.

Windows Live OneCare consists of a set of security and performance tools, all managed by a central console. Security features include anti-virus, anti-spyware and firewall feature with automatic updates. Performance tools include backup and restore and a tune-up feature that handles routine maintenance of all PCs on the small network. A "health meter"—essentially a dashboard—monitors each computers protection level and health, along with how to fix problems.

"Small business owners know they need to protect and maintain PCs that help them run their businesses, but they typically have no IT resources and very little time to spare," said Larry Brennan, lead product manager for Windows Live.

Although the software was useful before (Version 1 was released in May of 2006), a host of new features make it much more useful for small multi-PC environments. For example, many of the PC performance tuning and optimization features, such as proactive fixes and recommendations for PC help, are new. Also new is centralized backup for multiple local networked PCs, multi-PC management and monitoring, an automatic printer-sharing configuration, one-click issue reporting and resolution across the network, and Wi-Fi connection security.

These solutions have long been available for enterprises of about 50 employees or more and single users; this is the first time a vendor has seriously addressed the needs of groups of about 10 PCs or less, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group of San Jose, Calif.

"One issue of particular concern to small businesses is data backup," Brennan said. "With business-critical information stored on virtually every PC, Windows Live OneCare makes it much easier to do regular backups."

"I dont think anybody has sub-segmented the market like this before. They probably figured that most small companies probably got theirs—usually Symantec or McAfee—from their hardware OEM, and at a certain breakpoint, when you have somebody actually doing admin stuff, you go to an enterprise solution," he said.

This is the right time, however, for vendors to be paying attention to this segment.

"The threat level has risen enough so everybody is concerned, whereas before you had individuals concerned and big companies concerned, but not much in between," Enderle said. "But today, you really dont want your employees in a position to be able to turn off anti-virus or malware software, stop doing backups, or let any of this stuff expire because if they lose several months of work, your small company is in trouble. Thats why having a central console that monitors everything is a good idea."

Now that Microsoft has entered the small end of the SMB market, other vendors are sure to follow, Enderle believes.

"The cost of sale in that class has always been excessive—you often end up with no margin—so it hasnt been an attractive segment from a financial standpoint," he said. "But now that Microsoft has entered it, Ive got to believe that other anti-virus [vendors] are going to rethink it."