Back in 2005, when Microsoft was first mulling the idea of offering security software
, we noted that the company was between something of a rock and a hard place. If it decided to charge for the software, people would accuse the company of trying to get people to pay to protect themselves from the security vulnerabilities in Microsoft's own software. Yet, if they went free, then they would face screams about antitrust violations for undercutting competitors in the security software market. We also suggested a third option: design better software that doesn't need security software. But, failing that, Microsoft chose what I think was the worst of the three options: selling security software. Perhaps not too surprisingly, not too many people took Microsoft up on the offer. It could be a combination of reasons why. First, Microsoft just doesn't have a good reputation when it comes to security. Second, that whole issue of paying the same company that created the security holes in the first place. Finally, it might just be inertia. People buy from McAfee or Symantec because they're two names that have been around forever and are recognized (and, most importantly, bundled on many brand-name computers).
So, after a couple years of failing to make much of a dent in the market, Microsoft has abruptly shifted to option number two. It will no longer be selling its OneCare security software and, instead, will be offering a free security suite for users
, though with fewer features than the old OneCare offering. The various security software companies put out statements saying, of course, that this is no big deal, but you have to believe they're now doing whatever possible to stir up some complaints out of the Justice Department that this is an antitrust violation. Maybe a few years down the road Microsoft will simply move on to option three, and make software that doesn't require separate security software.