McAfee unafraid of Microsoft security push

Firm's president says McAfee will compete with Microsoft OneCare Live because security can't be done "part-time."

In June, Microsoft is expected to launch Windows OneCare Live, which is the company's long-anticipated entry into the consumer antivirus space. The company plans to charge $49.95 a year to shield up to three PCs against viruses, spyware and other cyberthreats.

However, although Microsoft's late entry into the security application market does pose a threat to McAfee's business, company president Kevin Weiss told ZDNet Australia last week that security requires dedication and specialization.

"Security is hard--we have been doing this for 15 years. We have over 10 patents that are focused right at security. We think we have a pretty significant lead in what we are doing. Security is not something you do part-time," Weiss said.

Weiss cited an example of how he believes Microsoft's thinking is fundamentally flawed when it comes to security: "If you are in an airport lounge and they have a PC that lets people do their e-mail remotely, look at how many Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents get downloaded? Microsoft doesn't allow you to look at those documents without downloading them to the PC. That is, for me, an indication that they don't think about security all the time," said Weiss.

Microsoft said it is going to let its customers decide who they want to trust with their security applications.

Peter Watson, Microsoft Australia's chief security advisor, told ZDNet Australia last week that although the company is hoping to woo both consumers and enterprise customers, it still sees vendors such as McAfee, Symantec and Sophos as partners.

"We look at the antivirus vendors out there and see them as partners. In XP, we have the security center, which allows users to choose whether they want to use our security components or if they want to install products from a third-party vendor. They are allowed to do that," Watson said.

One of Weiss's biggest criticisms of Microsoft's security products was the lack of integration. That is unsurprising, seeing as McAfee only last week announced a revamp of its security applications with better integration and improved management features.

"The interesting thing, though, is that (Microsoft's) solution is really addressing yesterday's problem--not necessarily today's or tomorrow's. There is no integrated anti-spyware. It is a stand-alone solution. There is no antiphishing. There is no antispam," Weiss said.

In response, Watson denied that Microsoft's security products are not integrated: "All Microsoft security products are actually integrated--but we have allowed structures so if these people want to choose products from another party they can turn our components off and install a third-party product."

Watson also argued that Microsoft looks at protecting a whole ecosystem that includes everything from the operating system to applications to users in different environments.

"We take a broader view of security--not just looking the value of our security solutions and individual components but also in terms of how is that going to enable the whole ecosystem," he said.

"If you look at the investment Microsoft is making into security, then we invest a large part of our research dollars--about a third. From a Microsoft standpoint, we see security as a key component to our business," Watson said.

McAfee's Weiss couldn't help having a little dig at Microsoft's chairman: "There may not be any antispam in there, because Bill Gates two years ago at the RSA conference said spam would be gone in two years--so maybe he thinks it is gone, so they didn't bother," Weiss said.

On a serious note, Weiss admitted that McAfee could not afford to underestimate Microsoft or any other competitor. However, he believes that the one way Microsoft could grab a large share of the market in a short period of time would most likely be frowned upon by fair-trade bodies.

Microsoft "could really capture the market if they bundled (OneCare) with the operating system--but I think the EU (European Union) would have something to say about that, and I think the U.S. Justice Department would have something to say about that as well," Weiss added.

Munir Kotadia of ZDNet Australia reported from Sydney.

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