The move to “security as a service” may be largely a conspiracy to increase prices, but maybe it doesnt have to end up that way.
Up top here I should concede that I made a careless error in a recent column by forgetting the fact that Microsofts OneCare includes a license to protect up to three computers, whereas the companys competitors typically make you get licenses for one at a time.
I actually had heard this and readers were quick to point it out in the talkbacks to the column (thanks).
Is this a good thing? Alex Eckelberry of Sunbelt Software doesnt think so, and from his perspective—as a provider of security software—having Microsoft come in and start a price war is a bad thing. You, the reader, have a different perspective.
I remember Comdex in (I believe) 1991, when Microsoft announced the release of Access for $99, a fraction of the $495 that Borland and others were charging for their products. At a party at that show I overheard Philippe Kahn of Borland telling a reporter, “I dont know who benefits from a price war in software.”
This from the man who made his fame on a $49 compiler, competing against (if I remember correctly from 1984) programs that cost in the $500 to $1500 range.
It was a good thing for customers that Microsoft set prices in a downward direction for business productivity software, and it can be a good thing for them if pricing pressures make security software more affordable. This is Microsofts real goal.
For months Microsoft has been spreading the message that its research shows—and it seems intuitively true to me—that a huge percentage of users have no anti-malware protection at all, or have an old program with an expired license.
I would never accuse Microsoft of being unconcerned with making money, but I think its real goal with OneCare is to increase the percentage of users who have basic, effective anti-malware protection. As long as the company doesnt lose money doing that itll be happy, because itll make Windows more appealing by making it safer to use.
Philippe Kahns Turbo Pascal may have been pathetically weak in many technical areas. It only made .COM files (that has nothing to do with Internet domains, you kids who dont know what a .COM file is) and initially couldnt even do overlays. But it was, I believe, the first integrated development environment, and a darn clever one. I made a good living for several years writing software using Turbo Pascal, even though that initial version was useless for my employer at the time.
Similarly, even if OneCare is weak in some areas of coverage, I can see it being a good solution for lots of people who feel abused by the big anti-virus companies making them pay $40 per year per computer.
-Frills Future of Security”>
I have still not tested OneCare. Competitors have been pushing me hard on the claim that it compares badly to their offerings in terms of features and that may be true.
But I wonder whether that will resonate with users who are always telling me how much they love the free anti-virus from AVG, which, ironically, uses viral marketing in your own e-mails.
The consumer security industry has, over the last several years, been pushing more elaborate and expensive solutions on users and increasing prices for them. A no-frills solution may be just what they want.
Sunbelts Alex also points out that Microsoft will be going for the throat in the business market too, but this is a very different market. To a degree, the same pricing dynamic works: security software is expensive, some companies skimp on it and, as a result, are vulnerable.
Microsoft can increase the overall level of protection in the installed base by coming in with low prices.
But its also true that the company will have a heavy burden of reputation to overcome in business markets, plus the fact that, all other things being equal, its better to get your security and systems software from a variety of vendors.
Throw away all the other considerations and assume, for the sake of argument, that Microsoft is just coming in with lower prices to undercut the competition. Gee, this seems like a good thing to me, not being one of its competitors. And its not tying any of these products (to my knowledge) to other products where it has substantial market share.
And nobody could possibly claim, as was claimed in the Federal antitrust case, that no effective competition exists. People in business know they can go elsewhere.
So if competitors think its unfair that Microsoft is undercutting them they can address the problem by making their prices more competitive. And if they go whining to the U.S. or (more likely) EU authorities, you, the customer, can take note of the fact that they think theyre entitled to an ever-increasing amount of money from you each year.
Editors Note: This story was updated to correct the name of the company referred to as using e-mail viral marketing.
Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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