Microsoft is working on a souped-up version of the Windows OneCare desktop security bundle for enterprise customers, an ambitious bet that theres value in the software-as-a-service business.
When Windows OneCare ships later this year, the immediate plan is to hawk it to nontechnical consumers, but according to a senior Microsoft executive, the long-term plan is to add centralized management capabilities for use in big businesses.
Windows OneCare, code-named A1, is styled as an easy-to-use subscription service for anti-virus, anti-spyware, firewall protection and PC backup and cleanup tools.
It is currently being tested internally by Microsofts 60,000 employees before a limited beta rollout later this summer. A full-scale rollout isnt expected until the end of the year.
“Well have an enterprise version,” said Mike Nash, corporate vice president at Microsoft Corp.s Security Business and Technology Unit, who used his monthly Security360 Webcast to discuss the upcoming OneCare launch.
A Microsoft spokesperson on Thursday sought to clarify Nashs statement on the companys plans. She said the anti-virus component of Windows OneCare is being delivered by the SBTU and once that is completed, Microsoft will turn its attention to an enterprise virus protection offering.
On the anti-spyware front, the spokesperson said a business-grade service will be launched for environments where centralized management and control is required.
Nash did not provide details on how an enterprise-grade version will be marketed or what kinds of management features would be added.
In a note to clients issued late Wednesday, research firm Gartner Inc. said it expects Microsoft to announce an enterprise-capable OneCare service by the end of 2005 for shipment in 2006.
It is not yet clear how the enterprise-grade Windows OneCare service will be different from Microsofts previously announced plans for an anti-virus product powered by the technology that came with the acquisition of Sybari Software Inc.
Analysts reacted to Nashs announcement with raised eyebrows.
“A lot of the interesting features in OneCare make no sense for large enterprise departments. Businesses arent interested in file backup or parental controls, so I cant know where this market is,” said John Pescatore, research director for Internet security at Gartner Inc.
“Microsoft has no track record in managed services. Even the trusted names in security have tried with this without much success,” Pescatore said in an interview with Ziff Davis Internet News.
Back in 2001, Pescatore recalled the McAfee.com “software-as-a-service” strategy that offered subscription-based online security, privacy and PC management services.
The McAfee.com service, which cost between $49.95 and $69.95 per desktop per year, was a failure because businesses see no value in having an external entity manage security on the desktop.
“The outsourced desktop security market, even with trusted security names, havent taken off. With the enterprise perception of Microsoft security today, I cant see how a business would trust Microsoft,” Pescatore added.
He said he believes there may be a market for OneCare in businesses with remote employees who rarely connect to the network but, even there, “its really a very small niche market.”
Gartners guidance to its clients is to wait until the product matures before considering its merits.
“This is a consumer grade offering. By year-end, we believe Microsoft will add some management features for mid-sized businesses. This is not something a large enterprise would even consider until the end of 2007. Even then, we havent seen any value there for large enterprise to outsource desktop security,” Pescatore added.
“Enterprise customers everywhere know that you have to wait until version 3 or version 3.5 of a Microsoft product before putting buying plans in place.”
Ted Anglace, senior security analyst at Sophos Inc., said Microsoft must be careful about putting out a desktop security product that could potentially break mission-critical business applications.
“Enterprise IT managers are always very careful about allowing external changes at the desktop level. Automatic changes that arent tested properly could a nightmare,” Anglace added.
He said an enterprise-grade version of Windows OneCare would have to include change process capabilities to allow a business to roll back updates in emergencies.
“If an insurance company with thousands of customer service reps goes down because changes to the desktop are propagated without proper testing, that wont work.”
“If they could incorporate a way to have enterprises handle change control, that might work. Right now, most customers have a very tight change control process.”
Anglace said Sophos, which markets anti-virus and firewall solutions for businesses, is capable of competing with Microsoft.
“The market is going to decide. Microsoft has come out with some interesting developments over past year and a half, but in the end, the enterprise market will decide whether or not they will use their offerings.”
Gartners Pescatore said he believes Microsofts entry into the desktop security business will trigger major price cuts among anti-virus vendors.
Soon-to-be rivals McAfee Inc., Symantec Corp. and Trend Micro Inc. currently sell comparable packages in the range of $50, but Pescatore said he believes Microsoft will introduce tiered pricing that will appeal to households with multiple computers.
He expects Microsoft to find immediate success in the consumer market where, surprisingly, the company has a “very good track record around trust.”
Editors Note: This story has been updated to include comments from a Microsoft spokesperson about the companys enterprise anti-virus and anti-spyware plans.
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