Windows Live OneCare: proof is in the pudding

Security release met with melancholy

The Windows Live OneCare release slated for Australia on January 30 has met a lukewarm response from potentially competing security tool vendors and academics alike.

Vendors state Microsoft's consumer security release will be plagued by trust issues and be seen as just one more player in an already competitive market run by companies with a history of pushing out security tools.

Academics consider it too early to see if computer users will find the tool useful.

Bill Caelli, professor of the Faculty of Information Technology at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and founding director of the Information Security Research Centre (ISRC), said we will not know until mum and dad have a handle on the User Access Control (UAC) system as featured in Vista, and use Windows Live OneCare for at least 12 months.

"The reason why Windows Live OneCare is mated with Vista is because Vista introduces role-based control which is a good thing but no leap for mankind as Unix used access control 25 years ago," Caelli said.

"Windows Live OneCare is a great move but the question is how user-friendly will this be for an ordinary mum and dad at home?

"We are going to have to see Vista and Live OneCare in a normal home environment for the next 12 months to see how real home users can adapt."

OneCare has been available in the US since May 2006.

David Freer, Asia Pacific and Japan senior director of consumer products for Symantec, said the likes of Microsoft entering the market, along with new players like Kaspersky and F-Secure means the "trust" factor associated with the Microsoft security branding will take a while for consumers to catch on when there are so many established alternatives.

Freer said the additional challenge for Microsoft is that most people have a horror story to tell. Freer sheepishly mentioned that occasionally happens with Norton.

"I think there is very little difference with Microsoft launching than with any other vendor," Freer said.

"The key thing with what Microsoft is doing is that OneCare is certainly a very basic product, the feature set uses much older technology, protection is not real time and is definition or black list driven and it will be hard to be up to the standard of those that have been in the game 20 years.

"The challenge is to get people to accept they are the right players as it takes a while to get trust and product recognition in the market."

Freer said the Symantec business has had growth in online sales, but a lesser rate of growth in the retail market, adding online is the future product delivery channel but not everyone wants to use it, especially those used to over-the-counter purchases.

Monica Kelly, McAfee director of consumer business, Asia Pacific, said Microsoft has been a significant partner of McAfee for a number of years and in the online channel, McAfee does not see any indication of Microsoft displacing McAfee's presence or eclipsing online sales.

"I believe at retail we will see strong competition and we are seeing the competition at retail present itself already in terms of the conversations we are having with major retailers in Australia," Kelly said.

"In ANZ the release is in a different form to the US as Microsoft showed up in the retail market with a OneCare budget and in Australia with a OneCare and Vista release budget ... but the mechanics turned out the same, with Microsoft sitting on the shelf it did not wipe Symantec and McAfee out.

"Personally I am a fence sitter as to whether or not Jo Average understands Microsoft's question mark on security ... it surprises me that Microsoft bought GeCad over three years ago and had a hefty development team on this for several years and still released OneCare below the specs of McAfee, Symantec and Trend as Market leading - they came to market with something below what customers buy in the first tier market."

Independent security analyst James Turner said the traditional security vendors are already looking at alternate revenue streams because they know Microsoft is fed up with the "parasitic relationship".

Turner said the traditional antivirus vendors make their money by implying that Microsoft is not secure, undermining the market's confidence in Microsoft products - something the company is not going to take lying down.

"Microsoft isn't going to throw their hands in the air and resign themselves to that subtle attack - they're famously competitive," Turner said.

"It may take them some time, because Windows is a phenomenally sophisticated product, but Microsoft is committed to market success.

"If that means treading on some other vendors' toes, then that's just what it takes."