Microsoft not only has plans to enter the anti-virus and security sectors of the software market, but also has plans to offer fee-based security services. This is bad news — simply by entering the security market, Microsoft could stall innovation by freezing the venture capital spent on Windows security, which, in the long run, will lead to less security against spyware, not more.
So what would stop Microsoft from using its spyware tools to disable any competing spyware detectors? Indeed, what would stop Microsoft from turning into the largest protection racket ever seen, in which the company compels billions of people to pay fees to protect themselves from the bad effects of Microsoft’s own software?
John Dvorak, in his PC Magazine column The Microsoft Protection Racket, points out the obvious:
Does Microsoft think it is going to get away with charging real money for any sort of add-on, service, or new product that protects clients against flaws in its own operating system? Does the existence of this not constitute an incredible conflict of interest? Why improve the base code when you can sell “protection”? Is Frank Nitti the new CEO?
The Mafia couldn’t have thought up a better protection racket than the platform Microsoft has provided: an architecture loaded with loopholes that criminals and crime-stoppers can both exploit for profit. As Dvorak describes it:
The exploits utilized by malware are possible because of flaws within the Microsoft code base. There is no incentive to fix the code base if it can make additional money selling “protection”…
Microsoft cannot fix the code — that’s the point. It apparently cannot be done. Get over it. And when the spyware epidemic appeared, the company had to throw in the towel. Spyware exploits the basic architecture of the operating system, and no amount of patches will change that.
Back on Friday the 13th of May, 2005, Microsoft announced that it is testing a subscription security service called OneCare that guards against spyware and virus attacks that plague Windows. Microsoft’s acquisition of several anti-virus and anti-spyware companies in 2004 and 2005 indicates that this service may allow Microsoft to compete directly with (as in, put out of business) Symantec and McAfee, which have built entire businesses based on Windows’ weaknesses.
OneCare is in beta; you can check it out for yourself. Here’s an excerpt from its opening blurb:
Are you tired of spending time trying to protect and maintain your computer? Are you worried that you’re still not doing everything you should to keep it safe and running at optimal performance? If your answer is “Yes,” then Windows OneCare is for you.
What makes a protection racket work? The lack of choice. In a report back in May, 2005 by CRN by Barbara Darrow, Microsoft Starts Testing Windows OneCare Security Subscription Service, David Friedlander, senior analyst with Forrester Research, questioned whether customers would be happy with such a service. “Will customers trust Microsoft enough to buy a security product from them as well as an operating system that needs to be protected?” Only if Microsoft makes an offer you couldn’t refuse.