Back in DOS 5.0, Microsoft included an anti-virus scanner (a licensed version of Central Points PC Tools scanner). That was Microsofts last entry into the anti-malware market with a real product, back in an era when viruses generally needed floppy disks to spread.
That scanner didnt even make it to DOS 6.0, and here we are, well over a decade later, and things have changed in almost every way.
Malware is a major problem for everyone, a huge industry has grown around fighting it, and Microsoft can no longer include whatever it wishes in its operating systems.
I grow impatient with observers who get mad at Microsoft for not including full-blown anti-virus protection in Windows. Sure, Id like it, too, but theres a big problem with this approach.
If you think including a Web browser with the operating system was anti-competitive (personally, I dont think it was), wait til you see the blood in the streets when they include anti-virus.
Theres no way the government— the anti-virus business is international enough that Microsoft would be in trouble all over the world.
Every ill blamed on Internet Explorer will befall security software. If Microsoft does a good job, then nobody will have a chance because it will be too easy to use the Microsoft solution.
If they do a bad job, a lot of people will still go with the easy Microsoft solution. In either case, Microsoft will be accused of impeding innovation by stealing the market.
Thats why even though Microsoft bought anti-virus company GeCAD more than a year and a half ago, it hasnt actually done anything with it.
Instead, starting this month, Microsoft will begin regular deliveries of malware removal tools, along the lines of the tools it has already delivered for high-profile attacks such as Blaster, MyDoom and JECT.
The new tool, code-named Titan, is based on technology from the GeCAD acquisition and will be a regular download through Windows Update and Automatic Updates. It will be a static threat remover, not a real-time protector against threats infecting the system.
For this reason, its anything but a threat to anti-virus products, and pretty low in the pecking order of security tools. You only need a removal tool if all of your other systems have failed, and most anti-virus products will have a capability to remove most of these same threats.
The new MS AntiSpyware product is another matter. The market for anti-spyware software is still small enough, and the problem (as conventional wisdom would have it) so big that Microsoft actually released a product. The initial quickie reviews are generally positive (more from me tomorrow).
Exactly how big the spyware/adware problem is is a debatable subject. Some products find huge numbers of threats on systems, but most of them are cookies, all of which are taken to be evil by some people. The Microsoft product doesnt appear to complain about cookies.
But nobody would be happier at a turnaround in the spyware situation than Microsofts Windows OEMs, who must seethe at all of the money they spend on support for users who mess up their computers with spyware. This is a group that Microsoft must keep happy.
Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983.
Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest security news, reviews and analysis. And for insights on security coverage around the Web, take a look at eWEEK.com Security Center Editor Larry Seltzers Weblog.
More from Larry Seltzer