As a user of Microsoft products and an employee of the company, I am of two minds about its entrance into the anti-spyware and anti-virus arenas. I agree with the sentiments Michael Gartenburg of Jupiter Research shared in his post Microsoft and Security – Demand if they do and demand if they don’t
It’s tough to be Microsoft. On one hand, folks insist that security, spyware and virus are issues that they must own. On the other hand, when they do own it and respond, they get dinged for it. Microsoft’s decision to get into the business and make these tools available should be lauded. Security is a tough issue that I’ve written about before and users need to also take on a share of the responsibility of keeping their systems safe. The fact is, even with good solutions on the market, not enough users are protecting their systems and if Microsoft entering the game can help change that, it’s a good thing.
Given that spyware is quite likely the most significant problem facing users of Windows I believe that Microsoft has a responsibility to its customers to do something about it. Others may disagree. For example, Robert X. Cringely attacks Microsoft for its recent announcements about getting in the anti-spyware market in his post Killing Us With Kindness: At Microsoft, Even Good Deeds Are Predatory. He writes
How can giving away software tools be bad? Look at how Microsoft is doing it. Their anti-virus and anti-spyware products are aimed solely at users of Windows XP SP2. This has very different effects on both the user base and the software industry. For users, it says that anyone still running Windows 98, ME, or 2000 has two alternatives — to upgrade to XP/SP2 or to rely on non-Microsoft anti-virus and anti-spyware products. Choosing to upgrade is a 100+ million-unit windfall for Microsoft. That’s at least $10 billion in additional revenue of which $9 billion is profit — all of it coming in the next 12 months.That $10 billion, by the way, comes from you and me, and comes solely because of Microsoft’s decision to offer “free” software.
Of course, you can decide not to upgrade to XP/SP2 and rely instead on third-party products to protect your system. But Microsoft has set the de facto price point for such products at zero, zilch, nada. By doing this, they have transferred their entire support obligation for these old products to companies like Symantec and Network Associates without transferring to those companies any revenue stream to make it worth their trouble. Maybe Peter Norton will say, “Screw this, I’m not going to support all these millions of people for nothing.” Well, that’s Symantec (not Microsoft) apparently forcing users into the same upgrade from which Microsoft (not Symantec) gains all the revenue.
Look how this decision transforms Microsoft. By choosing to no longer support a long list of products (is that even legal?), hundreds and perhaps thousands of developers will be switching to new duties. If this were any other company, I would predict layoffs, but a key strategy for Microsoft is hiring the best people simply to keep them from working elsewhere, so I don’t think layoffs are likely. What IS likely is an exodus of voluntary departures. What’s also likely is that those hundreds or thousands of reassigned developers will be moved to some other doomsday product — something else for us to eagerly anticipate or fear.
Cringely seems to be confusing supporting old versions of Windows with providing applications that run on current versions of Windows. Windows 98, Windows 98 SE and Windows Millenium are old versions of Windows whose support life cycle was supposed to end about a year ago but was extended by Microsoft. At the current time, Microsoft will continue to provide critical security updates for these operating systems but new applications won’t be targetting them but instead will target the current version of Windows for the desktop which is Windows XP.
Microsoft’s anti-spyware and anti-virus applications are not an operating system upgrade but instead new applications targetting the current versions of Windows. Even if they were, Windows 98, Windows SE and Windows Millenium are past the stage in their support life cycle where they’d be eligible for such upgrades anyway. Given that Robert X. Cringely is quite familiar with the ways of the software industry I’m surprised that he expects a vendor of shrinkwrapped software to be providing new features to seven year old versions of their software when current versions exist. This practice is extremely uncommon in the software industry. I personally have never heard of such an instance by any company.