San Francisco -- Just a year after it re-launched the commercial subscription edition of its anti-malware service for individual Windows users -- The Redmond Vole, on Wednesday said it is changing its strategy for offering PC antivirus software, and intends to discontinue its “Windows Live OneCare” subscription-based consumer security suite, instead, the company said it plans to release its free security software, code-named “Morro,” in an effort to persuade more users to secure their PCs against spyware, viruses and other forms of “malware.”
The new service Morro -- will be obtainable in the second half of 2009 and will protect against viruses, spyware, rootkits, and Trojans, the company said in a statement.
The Redmond Company said the service is built around the current anti-malware engine used as part of the Live OneCare service, though with a smaller footprint. “Morro is designed to work with smaller, less powerful computers, which should make it appeal to a wide group of consumers.”
The emphasis is to enable the new service to be used in devices with smaller memory and resources, probably including netbooks, the company said.
With this progressive step, the software giant appears to be taking aim at McAfee Inc. and Symantec Corp., its chief rivals in the PC security market.
With the arrival of Morro, Microsoft plans to discontinue selling the Windows Live OneCare service, although the two services are not identical. Morro falls short of OneCare’s non-security features, such as printer sharing and automated PC tune-up. The OneCare service to be stopped was priced at $49.95 a year and applicable up to three PCs.
Microsoft move to switch to a free product because there are still so many PCs out there that lack any antivirus software.
“Since they are not considerate about malware, the number of people who do not have antivirus software or do not keep it up to date exceeds 50 percent in developed markets, and it is becoming worse in emerging markets,” Amy Barzdukas, senior director of product management for the Online Services and Windows Division at Microsoft, said in an interview. “Live OneCare was tailored for developed markets with broadband...and it is not meeting the needs of a lot of customers.”
An explanation on the Windows Live OneCare team blog this afternoon reads, “Finally, we consider the decision to offer a security solution at no additional cost to consumers and phase out Windows Live OneCare is the right step to broaden PC protection and improve the Windows experience for more users around the world. Microsoft will continue to deliver on its commitment to provide consumers around the world with a world-class security solution.”
Asked why the company would not just continue to sell both the free and subscription versions, Barzdukas said: “Having core anti-malware at no cost for consumers, we feel, we will protect more consumers that way.” Consumers who want more than the features Morro will offer have “fine alternatives from third parties” to buy, she added.
Regardless of the fact that McAfee stands to lose paying customers to Microsoft’s new free software, McAfee spokesman Joris Evers said the news signaled a defeat for Microsoft.
“Consumers have voted; OneCare, in its two years on the market, has achieved less than 2 percent market share,” he said in an interview. “Microsoft is giving up and has defaulted to a dressed-down freeware model that does not meet consumer security needs. This is good news for McAfee.”
Barzdukas rejected the notion that Microsoft was responding to market share or competitive pressures. “If the current approach is not working... (as far as protecting consumers broadly) we need to go with a new approach,” she said.
However, Microsoft has a tendency of butting heads with its competitors in the PC security space. In 2006 and 2007, Symantec and McAfee raised concerns that Microsoft had designed Windows Vista to deny them access to the heart of the operating system, which they needed to protect it from certain kinds of malicious software.
After negotiations, and some pushing from antitrust regulators in Brussels, Microsoft said it would provide the information needed.
Windows Live OneCare will continue to be sold for Windows XP and Vista via retailers through June 30, 2009, and direct sales will be gradually phased out as Morro becomes available. “Microsoft will ensure that all current customers remain protected through the life of their subscriptions,” the statement said.
Shares of Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft closed up 43 cents, or 2.2 percent, at $19.62. Shares of Cupertino, Calif.-based Symantec finished at $12.40, up 24 cents, or 2 percent, while shares of Santa Clara, Calif.-based McAfee closed up 28 cents at $28.57.