Microsoft to launch free PC protection

Will people still pay when Microsoft’s product is free?

Microsoft to launch free PC protection

Finally, some good news for frustrated Windows users. After years of being forced to buy pricey anti-virus software to keep their PCs running (and being mocked for it by Mac users), relief is in sight: Microsoft has announced that it will begin offering its own anti-virus software, for free.

Code-named “Morro,” Microsoft’s new product promises to guard against malware (short for malicious software) including viruses, spyware, rootkits and trojans. Reportedly named for Brazil’s Morro de São Paulo beach, the software was originally designed for consumers in emerging markets who couldn’t afford to pay for anti-virus software. But Morro will be made available to Windows users all over the world in the second half of next year, when Microsoft will simultaneously kill off Windows Live OneCare, a security subscription service launched just over a year ago that costs about $50 per year.

The move is being welcomed by PC users tired of shelling out for third-party protection. Besides the frustration of the extra cost, “third-party software really drags down the speed of your computer,” says Ian Gormely, a Toronto blogger who says he’s used all the major anti-virus programs on his PC.

But while it’s a boon to consumers, Morro could be devastating to companies that have built empires selling software to protect PCs from viruses. McAfee and Symantec (creator of Norton AntiVirus), leaders in the field, both saw their stock slide by more than seven per cent when Morro was announced, continuing a long swoon that has seen the stock of both companies drop by more than 30 per cent over the past three months.

Microsoft claims that Morro isn’t a direct rival to products from McAfee or Symantec because it’s a basic service focusing on malware, and because it doesn’t offer extras such as encryption, data loss prevention and parental controls. Amit Kaminer, a Toronto-based analyst for SeaBoard Group, says that as long as the two companies can successfully identify features in addition to malware protection that customers are willing to pay for, both should be able to survive.

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