They’re at it again. Microsoft has confirmed that it will bundle anti-spyware functionality with Windows Vista, the next version of the market-dominating PC operating system. The move suggests that Microsoft, which has been successfully sued on antitrust grounds over bundling Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player, may not be the kinder gentler giant it has recently been made out to be.
The news came after the company released another of its Community Technology Previews of Vista, which did not contain any anti-spyware code, but had some suggestions that it would in future.
A Microsoft spokesperson has confirmed that the company plans to include Windows AntiSpyware with Vista, as a part of the operating system, and said that there are no current plans to make it available as separate product.
There is no question that computer users, many of which may never have heard of spyware but are painfully aware that their PCs are not functioning as intended, are crying out for this kind of functionality.
But it’s a risky move for Microsoft, which only recently said it would pay out up to $761 million to settle charges that bundling Windows Media Player (WMP) with Windows illegally disadvantaged rival media firm RealNetworks.
The company also gave Time Warner, current owner of the old Netscape browser business, a $750 million payday two years ago, to settle charges its bundle of Internet Explorer (IE) with Windows anticompetitively marginalized Netscape.
The only real indication from the latest Vista CTP that anti-spyware would be bundled is the fact that the Security Center interface, introduced in Windows XP Service Pack 2, now contains a reference to spyware alongside anti-virus and firewall.
Many beta testers had inferred from this that Windows AntiSpyware would be bundled. While that’s an unfair inference, given that Security Center references antivirus, and Microsoft is not bundling antivirus, it turns out to be true anyway.
The company seems to hope that the fact that Windows AntiSpyware can be removed or disabled at any point, and that other vendors will be able to plug their offerings into Security Center, will deflect some criticism.
Microsoft has not yet said whether it will charge a subscription for anti-spyware signatures. If it does charge, then that would be another area where this situation differs from the WMP and IE bundling moves.
If it does not charge a fee, it probably becomes a question of when, not if, Microsoft is sued by an anti-spyware company.
Currently, anti-spyware functionality is included in most of the major antivirus products – a market led by Symantec, McAfee, and Trend Micro – and is sold by various pure-play firms, such as Webroot Software.
The Vista bundling will not extend to the full OneCare offering, which is Microsoft’s forthcoming PC health product, set to combine antivirus, anti-spyware, a firewall, and PC maintenance tools in one subscription-based package.
The European Commission (EC) is currently believed to be quietly investigating Microsoft’s moves into security. Symantec Corp said recently that it had provided market information to the EC at the Commission’s request.
The EC found last year that Microsoft abused its operating system (OS) monopoly to put the squeeze on RealNetworks. The company was forced to release a version of XP sans WMP, alongside the full version of the OS, in the European Union.