Microsoft set to ignite desktop security price war

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Enterprises can look forward to cheaper antivirus and anti-spyware software after Microsoft enters the desktop security market next year, industry experts predict.

According to Neil MacDonald, Gartner vice president and a distinguished analyst, the software giant will face major challenges as it attempts to muscle into the established security market with an anti-malware offering combining antivirus and anti-spyware protection with centralised management. However, its entry will inevitably cause a "market shift".

Gartner believes that Microsoft will probably not bundle its full enterprise anti-malware offering with the forthcoming Windows Vista, because of regulatory and antitrust concerns.

Although no official details of pricing have been released, the analyst firm predicts that Microsoft will set its pricing to dramatically under-cut existing desktop security offerings: "We expect Microsoft to offer a simple pricing model for this service, with annual subscription fees not exceeding $15 per user per PC," MacDonald predicted.

He went on to point out that Microsoft faces "many challenges" besides regulatory concerns as it enters the enterprise security space. The company needs to change the PC security market, not simply deliver derivative "me too" products at lower price points, Gartner warned.

In addition Microsoft "cannot expect to be taken seriously" as a security vendor if it supports only Windows platforms. Other issues facing the software giant, according to Gartner, is the need to develop a single, unified management console for all its host-based security products, covering those included in the operating system and those sold separately.

"[Microsoft] must deal with skepticism from larger enterprises that may consider Microsoft's selling desktop security products a conflict of interest (because it developed the vulnerable software that now must be protected at additional cost)," MacDonald said.

He added that Microsoft will also face scrutiny from regulators who believe the firm has unfair "inside" knowledge of Windows and Windows vulnerabilities.

Enterprises should tread cautiously and recognise that Microsoft is a relatively new entrant in the security market, whereas other vendors have 10 years or more of experience, Gartner advised.

"Follow Gartner's standard advice that large, complex enterprises should never switch to v.1.0 of any product," the analyst firm stated.

Rather than rolling out the Redmond giant's security offerings firms should use its entry into the market to gain leverage when negotiating renewal of desktop security contracts, even if they are not seriously considering Microsoft's offerings.

Gartner also noted that enterprises should stop paying extra for anti-spyware by the end of 2006 and avoid long-term contracts of more than two years for desktop security products, because price points will likely drop at least 10 per cent per year after Microsoft's entry.

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