Microsoft Unwraps A1 Consumer Security Service

The subscription-based service Windows OneCare will offer anti-virus, anti-spyware and two-way firewall protection bundled with disk backup and health-monitoring tools for PCs.

After more than two years of development, Microsofts consumer PC security bundle is (almost) ready for prime time.

The software giant plans to roll out an internal beta of the service—dubbed Windows OneCare—to employees next week, the first official step in an ambitious plan to bundle anti-virus, anti-spyware, firewall protection and PC cleanup tools to Windows users.

In the summer, Microsoft will expand the test to consumers in a "private, invite-only manner," and a full-scale rollout wont be ready until the end of the year.

"Think of it as four legs of a table," said Denis Bonsall, group product manager of the technology, care and safety group of the Microsoft MSN unit. "Theres the security leg with anti-virus, anti-spyware, a two-way firewall and security checks to make sure Windows settings are properly set."

In an interview with Ziff Davis Internet News, Bonsall said the Windows OneCare product will also offer a simplified, color-coded interface for performance maintenance and data protection.

Windows OneCare will also feature a live support element for consumers in need of help during a security incident. The live support will take the form of e-mail, chat or telephone assistance, Bonsall said.

It will be marketed by the companys consumer-facing MSN division.

Microsoft first began testing the service in 2003 with the closed "PC Satisfaction Trials" which featured a Red Cross symbol and a colored meter that determined whether a computers protection was weak, fair or good.

/zimages/5/28571.gifRead more on Microsoft Watch about Microsofts PC Satisfaction trials.

Bonsall said the results from the PC Satisfaction beta test evolved into a broader test, code-named A1, which added spyware detection and deletion capabilities to the easy-to-use interface.

Bonsall declined to discuss pricing for the service but confirmed that the service will be rolled out as a renewable subscription, similar to offerings from soon-to-be competitors Symantec Corp., McAfee Inc. and Trend Micro Inc.

"This is A1," he said, referring to earlier reports of the bundled security service.

"Customers dont feel like they are getting one holistic solution to take care of their PCs. Its a lot more than just security. Its a lot more about protection of digital memories. Our customers want a complete PC safety product and they want it to be easy," he said.

"They want to know things are OK. They want something to look at and know right away that they are secure," he said. A clean computer will show a green check-off that reads "Status Good."

The anti-virus feature in Windows OneCare will be powered internally by Microsoft. "It will be a Microsoft anti-virus engine that we built internally and this started with the GeCAD acquisition," Bonsall said, referring to the 2003 acquisition of the Romanian anti-virus technology company.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here to read more about Microsofts acquisition of GeCAD.

Microsoft also acquired Sybari Software Inc. earlier this year, but that will be used to power the companys push into the enterprise anti-virus market. The anti-spyware definitions will come from Microsoft AntiSpyware, the cleanup tool that came with the purchase of Giant Company Software last December.

"About 70 percent of Windows consumers dont have an anti-virus solution today. Thats a market that needs to be served, with all the threats were seeing every day," Bonsall said.

"Its been pretty clear that this was a goal of the company, to get into the security business," said Matt Rosoff, lead analyst for Consumer Products & Services at Directions on Microsoft. "Frankly, Im surprised it took them this long. Security is so closely tied to Windows."

"Anybody in the security business has known this was coming. What Im not sure about is how Microsoft is going to do a better job of getting consumers to update and renew," Rosoff added. "Microsoft is trying to operate in a simple interface and really help consumers keep up to date. Success may really be determined around the pricing of this service."

Windows OneCare is being designed to address core safety concerns such as worms, viruses and spyware, according to the company. It also will help with other PC issues including helping protect electronic assets such as digital photos, music, financial data and software, and guarding against performance degradation and system clutter that can result from heavy use.

The key capabilities and features of Windows OneCare will include:

  • Automatically updated anti-virus, anti-spyware and two-way firewall protection.
  • The optional ability to have Windows OneCare automatically carry out periodic maintenance tasks such as disk cleanup, hard-drive defragmentation and file repair. The service also will offer boot-time information and proactive support tools to help improve the customer experience.
  • Automated backup of files by category on CDs and DVDs, along with the option to back up all files on the system or only those that have changed since the last time the action was performed. If files are accidentally deleted or corrupted on the PC hard drive, the service is designed to restore saved versions or map them on a new PC.
  • PC users will have one simple point of reference for checking the overall health of their system. Windows OneCare will automatically notify users of available updates or other recommended actions and enable users to easily act as needed. Otherwise, the service stays quiet and in the background.

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