Can Microsoft Reshape the Anti-Virus Market?

News Analysis: With an all-out price war looming, analysts say enterprises can take advantage of Microsoft's anti-virus plans to demand more from leading vendors.

Microsofts massive presence in the anti-virus space may be bad news for vendors leading the market, but for enterprise customers with tight budgets, it presents wonderful bargaining opportunities.

With all-out price war looming, an influential IT research firm suggests that enterprises use Microsoft Corp.s anti-virus push to negotiate better pricing—and bundled services—from existing vendors.

On the heels of the Windows OneCare rollout for consumers, a subscription-based package that bundles virus, spyware and firewall protection alongside data backup and PC configuration features, Gartner Inc. is predicting an enterprise-grade service will ship in 2006 for sale well below current market prices.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read more about Microsofts rollout of OneCare.

"Were telling out clients, especially midsize businesses, to use Microsoft as a bargaining chip to get better pricing right now," said John Pescatore, Gartner research director for Internet security.

In an interview with Ziff Davis Internet News, Pescatore said the massive shadow of the worlds largest software maker will force soon-to-be-competitors to aggressively revamp their sales strategies to avoid defection to Microsoft.

"Like with any other Microsoft product, it wont be a viable choice until the end of 2007, but this puts the customer in the drivers seat. Microsoft will eventually have a compelling offering, and businesses have to take advantage of this to make certain demands on pricing and better bundles," Pescatore added.

Even on the consumer side, Pescatore said Windows users should use the OneCare announcement to influence incumbent providers to put free anti-spyware protection into anti-virus subscriptions.

"The anti-virus guys like to treat spyware like a separate problem so they can sell it separately. Now that Microsoft is bundling and selling it in a single product, the market will have to react."

/zimages/4/28571.gifRead more insight on OneCare here from columnist Mary Jo Foley.

Behind the scenes, Microsoft is quietly working on an image makeover, but Gartner thinks there are other challenges.

For one, Microsoft anti-virus labs are unproven, and unless it offers best-in-class anti-virus response time and client software stability, it faces the risk of rejection.

Technology from the recently acquired Sybari Software Inc. will power Microsofts enterprise anti-virus product, presenting an interesting situation wherein Microsoft will be relying on actual competitors to provide scan engine capabilities.

/zimages/4/28571.gifTo read more about Microsofts purchase of Sybari, click here.

Sybaris Antigen product gives customers a choice of up to six scan engine technologies from companies like Network Associates, Norman Data Defense, Sophos, Computer Associates and Kaspersky Lab.

Next Page: A battle ahead.