Posted by: Aaron Ricadela on November 19, 2008
Two years after jumping into the PC security software market, Microsoft is scaling back its ambitions there. The company said Nov. 18 it’s discontinuing its $50-a-year OneCare software in favor of a give-away program due next year called Morro.
Not enough people were signing up for OneCare, sold in year-long subscriptions, says Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates, which advised Microsoft on the Morro project. “Pay for play was an inhibitor to penetration,” he says. Instead, Microsoft will concentrate on making sure more PC users get protected from viruses and spyware by offering those features free to Windows users. ”That ‘s the higher value,” says Kay.
OneCare also was tightly coupled with a Windows Vista feature called “user account control” that’s driven users crazy with frequent and sometimes mystifying requests for permission before Windows installs or changes programs.
When Microsoft launched OneCare in June 2006, it sent a competitive shiver through security software vendors Symantec and McAfee. Suddenly, the company that supplied Windows was jumping into their market as well. Now, Microsoft is conceding the approach wasn’t working.
Consumers are “frustrated” with security software, says Amy Barzdukas, a senior product management director at Microsoft. While some surveys have shown that 80% of U.S. PC owners say they’re protected from malware, “most of those consumers are confused” by trial versions of programs that ship with their PCs, then expire, she says. In fact, less than 50% of American PC users are safe from malware, and the percentage is even lower in countries like China and Brazil, Barzdukas says. By giving away Morro, Microsoft is trying to “get more customers protected.”
OneCare packaged anti-spyware, anti-virus, plus PC backup and tune-up features into a single piece of software. Microsoft plans to keep selling it through June 2009, and honor consumers’ subscriptions till they expire. In the second half of 2009, it plans to release software currently code-named Morro, designed to run faster on full-fledged PCs and notebooks as well as low-priced, stripped-down “netbooks.” Morro will fight spyware and viruses, and run on machines with Windows XP, Vista, or the upcoming Windows 7 system. But it won’t be able to back up files, defragment a hard drive, or perform other ancillary tasks. The company will continue selling business security programs under the Forefront brand.
Microsoft has long said that when something goes wrong with users’ PCs, they blame the company, right or wrong. And its reputation among consumers has taken some hits the past few years, mostly due to Vista’s complexity and early problems with software compatibility. Giving away an anti-malware program could help batten down more PCs and furnish Microsoft with some goodwill—even if the price is giving up on building a consumer PC security business that could stand on its own.