The Redmond giant will initially offer US consumers a free trial of the service prior to the scheduled full launch of a subscription-based commercial offering next year.
The first public beta will be available at http://ideas.live.com and will offer:
- Real-time anti-virus and managed firewall security
- Back-up and restore capabilities
- PC maintenance tools
According to industry experts, the move will create a seismic shift in the IT security landscape. Graham Titterington, an analyst at Ovum, said: "This is very important news for the IT security industry, and hence for all IT users. Microsoft will have a major effect on the market, even if it tries to restrain itself in order to avoid anti-monopoly investigation. It will inevitably become the default choice of supplier on Windows platforms, both on the desktop and in the consumer space."
Titterington added that opening up the security service to consumers marks the final phase in the "phony war" between Microsoft and the established security vendors. This will turn into outright conflict once these services are commercially released, and not just available in beta test versions.
However, he went on to predict that the industry should not expect Microsoft to simply eliminate the competition. The issue for the other vendors is how to adjust their costs to reflect a lower volume of sales without compromising the quality of their offerings. In order to achieve this goal, he said, "mergers and rationalization" in the industry will be inevitable.
"The server market is much more diverse because product functionality is much more important here. Microsoft has no advantage in the increasingly-important appliance market, and so we can expect to see the other vendors promoting the cause of "unified threat protection" appliances as an alternative approach to securing the business," said Titterington.
"In larger enterprises, Microsoft will also struggle to appear relevant in environments with heterogeneous platforms. Ultimately, Microsoft needs competitors in this space to divert the attentions of hackers away from its protection products and in all probability to supply it with threat intelligence for its own services."
According to Ovum, IT security vendors that currently target the consumer market will suffer most as Microsoft muscles into the market. The analyst firm predicts that the main losers initially will be Symantec and McAfee because of their dominance in the consumer market.
But as Microsoft moves into the enterprise market, the analyst warned that all the anti-virus vendors will feel the heat. "Microsoft's security ambitions do not stop at anti-virus and spyware protection. Its ISA Server has become a credible firewall. Its vast investment in Trustworthy Computing has achieved its initial objective of rescuing the Microsoft brand from the chief security officer's joke book and restored confidence in Windows," said Titterington.
"The company has a new culture and will want to start getting a hard return on its investment. It has already made acquisitions in the compliance and anti-spam areas. We will see it building more security features into its basic platform. The transformation of the entire security industry will now be speeded up."
A Microsoft spokesperson described Windows OneCare Live as "a comprehensive, automatic and self-updating PC care/health service that continually manages vital computer tasks so consumers don't have to worry about protecting and maintaining their computers."
It is two years since Microsoft bought its first anti-virus technology from Romanian developer GeCad Software. The firm has subsequently acquired Giant and Sybari.