Windows x64 Lacks Major Anti-Virus Coverage

Microsoft's coming-out party for a 64-bit version of Microsoft Windows XP Pro is being spoiled by the absence of anti-virus protection from big-name vendors.

Customers testing the newly released Windows XP Professional x64 Edition have been getting startling error messages that anti-virus protection from at least two vendors—Symantec and McAfee—is not yet available.

According to early adopters looking to exploit the power of the latest 64-bit operating system, the Norton Internet Security 2005 error message is rather blunt: "Symantec currently does not sell any consumer products that are certified to be compatible with 64-bit processors and operating systems."

The Norton Internet Security 2005 suite is Symantec Corp.s flagship consumer product that includes virus protection, spam detection, firewall features, intrusion protection and content filtering. It was recently upgraded to include spyware-detection capabilities.

In a statement released to Ziff Davis Internet News, Symantec said it would be "monitoring the adoption of x64 very closely" but confirmed that virus protection on x64 was not yet available.

"Symantec is pleased to be working closely with Microsoft to build out the new x64 ecosystem. Symantec will be monitoring the adoption of x64 very closely and will ensure that it delivers the right solutions at the right time to meet its customers security needs," the statement read.

The company said its Symantec AntiVirus Corporate Edition 10.0 will eventually support Windows XP Professional x64 Edition and Windows Server 2003 x64 Editions, but no timeline for full support was provided.

Over at Santa Clara, Calif.-based McAfee Inc., the message was essentially the same: The market for 64-bit computing is not mature enough to justify a full anti-virus rollout.

Marc Solomon, senior product manager McAfees consumer strategy and market group, said the Windows XP Professional x64 Edition is initially geared only towards developers, gamers and early adopter enthusiasts. "Well go to market as the business dictates. We dont see consumer adoption for 64-bit operating systems starting very soon," Solomon said in an interview.

"Our plan right now is to support at the end of this year. We dont think the market will mature until Longhorn ships or a bit after. At that time, there will be more drivers and software targeted at the consumer segment," Solomon said.

McAfees thinking appears to be driven by the fact that 64-bit driver support has been generally put on the back burner even though Microsoft has started beating the drum for developers to start building 64-bit device drivers to meet the expected user demand.

On the enterprise side, McAfee does offer limited support for 64-bit systems. Full anti-virus support isnt expected until 2006.

For its part, Microsoft put a brave face on the lukewarm support from security partners. A company spokesperson repeated the "security is absolutely a top priority" mantra and argued that Microsoft has worked with key AV companies to develop 64-bit versions of their applications to run on Windows XP Professional x64 Edition.

He said at least two companies—Alwil Software and Computer Associates International Inc.—offer 64-bit anti-virus applications compatible with Windows XP Professional x64 Edition today.

"Microsoft will continue to work with AV partners to help ensure the appropriate AV applications will be available on the x64 platform," he said.

Redmond is touting x64 as "by itself a very secure operating system" built on the same code base as Windows Server 2003 SP1. The spokesman noted it already includes the security features and enhancements found in Windows XP SP2 (Service Pack 2).

During his keynote at this years WinHEC (Windows Hardware Engineering Conference), Microsoft chairman Bill Gates argued that the 64-bit generation offers an enhanced layer of hardware protection, especially the no-execute bit, which defeats a large class of exploits.

This was a message being reinforced by the company spokesperson on Friday. "Windows XP Professional x64 Edition includes Data Execution Prevention [DEP], a set of hardware and software technologies that perform additional checks on memory to help protect against malicious code exploits. DEP provides an additional layer of security against malicious software for customers running Windows XP Professional x64 Edition," he said.


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