Now that Microsoft (Quote) has acquired a number of security vendors and put them under an umbrella called ForeFront, the temptation is to think the largest software vendor in the world is looking to conquer one of the most crucial parts of the broad software market.
With that multi-billion-dollar bank account, Symantec and McAfee should run and hide, right?
Not so fast, said Gartner analyst Neil MacDonald, who detailed Microsoft's position in the mature, yet evolving market for security software at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo here.
"Is Microsoft going to be a significant enterprise security player or are they just a 'me, too' player with look-alike lower-priced products for small and medium-sized businesses?" MacDonald said. "That's what they are, and that's not necessarily a bad thing."
MacDonald said Microsoft will not be a so-called "best-of-breed" vendor and it hasn't yet articulated a clear vision for offering antivirus or anti-spyware together despite its latest ForeFront push, which includes antivirus, security services, edge and client protection.
The analyst said Microsoft can gain credibility by undercutting Symantec and McAfee on prices for security software, a practice the company has employed consistently to build its empire.
MacDonald said Microsoft's entrance into the security market has shaken Symantec (Quote) and McAfee up, forcing them to cut their prices and rethink their packaging.
"The fact that Microsoft entered the market and shook up the status quo -- good," MacDonald said. "Prices are coming down for all of you in the room. You're getting more security functionality for less money."
Consumers get the cheaper software package while Symantec and McAfee go after Microsoft in other way, complaining to the European Union that Vista infringes on patents and locks them out of the desktop. Microsoft has its work cut out for it.
MacDonald said the company needs to integrate security software across its platforms, provide application control and hardening, provide cross-platform security support for Linux and Macintosh and security for mobile devices, including those that run its own CE operating system.
"They are missing a lot of capabilities and that's why I came to the conclusion that they are me, too, look-alike, lower cost and never be best of breed," MacDonald said.
But Microsoft has operational security strengths, thanks to its operating system, as well as a solid consumer product in its Windows Live OneCare product, whose beta went live today.
OneCare boasts antivirus and anti-spyware scanners and managed, two-way firewall, to protect computers from viruses, worms, Trojan horses, hackers and other threats.
MacDonald also said Microsoft has to put its conflicts of interest to bed, reconciling the fact that although they sell some insecure products they are capable of making products that protect PCs.
Microsoft has won some tough battles though, proving with XP that it is no less secure an OS than supported versions of Linux from Red Hat or Novell (Quote), MacDonald said.