By Brian Krebs
Special to the Washington Post
Saturday, October 14, 2006
Microsoft Corp. did an about-face yesterday, agreeing to make it easier for customers of its forthcoming Vista operating system to use outside security vendors, such as those who make popular antivirus and anti-spyware programs.
Until now, Microsoft had planned to block those companies from installing their products in the deepest levels of the new operating system, which is scheduled for release early next year.
The company said it was doing so to address the concerns of security and performance in Windows XP and apply them to Windows Vista.
Microsoft's shift means that users would continue to have a choice in the programs they use to protect their computers and not be tied to something that Microsoft offers.
Microsoft is getting into the established, multibillion-dollar Windows security market with its own antivirus and anti-spyware services. The European Commission, which has fined Microsoft nearly $1 billion for antitrust violations, told the company that it was concerned that Vista's system for alerting users about security weaknesses might confuse customers who were using a similar alert system with other security programs.
Symantec Corp., maker of the Norton security programs, specifically took issue with what Vista users will see when they start their computers: a screen that advertises Microsoft's own antivirus and security services.
Symantec spokesman Cris Paden said the company was encouraged by Microsoft's announcement, but noted that it had not received any technical details about the plan.
"Right now we're in wait-and-see mode, but we're hopeful because it looks like customers are now going to have the right to use whatever security solutions they want with Vista," Paden said.
Microsoft said it is still gathering information from the software security vendors and will respond case by case.
The company said that blocking the core area of the operating system was also meant to enhance the performance of the entire computer, noting that unsupported access by outside software programs could affect the overall stability of the machine.
Stephen Northcutt, president of the SANS Technology Institute of Bethesda, a computer-security training group, said the changes that Microsoft agreed to make with Vista would help ensure that consumers continue to have a choice in security software.
"It looks like Microsoft was really testing the waters here, sort of pushing the limits of antitrust and decided they probably couldn't cross that line just yet," Northcutt said. "That's a good thing, because it's just too easy for mistakes to happen when you are only left with a single security provider."