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I'm from Microsoft. Here's how we crush bones

The move to offer a free consumer security suite fits with a playbook Microsoft has used with great effect for most of the last two decades.

Credit John Thompson for having impeccable timing. Of course, the timing of his resignation announcement as chief executive officer from Symantec was purely coincidental, falling just one day before Microsoft dropped an A-bomb on the antivirus security market. But better lucky than good.

Microsoft's move to kill its Windows Live OneCare PC care and security suite and replace it with free consumer anti-malware software is a big deal for the likes of Symantec, McAfee, and the other antivirus suppliers (though nobody's going to say that on the record). Competing against free is always a tough sell, and this is no exception.

The only real surprise is that it took Microsoft this long to reach this point. But it's in line with the company's practice of offering for free the features that other application makers charge for. Let's remember that back in the Stone Age, companies used to sell things like word processors and spell checkers. Know anybody in their right mind still paying for that functionality today? Those companies--if they still exist--have long moved on because those businesses dried up. You can get that stuff (and a lot more) as part of Windows.

Forget antitrust claims. There's a world of difference between today's announcement and Microsoft's takedown of Netscape in the late 1990s. Microsoft is not the dominant vendor in the antivirus market. It won't be bundling the product with the Windows operating system. Neither will it force anyone to use the application. There's just no case to be made.

If past is prologue, I'm sure some commercial antivirus makers will argue that their products remain qualitatively head and shoulders above anything Microsoft could make in the security realm. Even if that were true, it doesn't matter. The economy's on all fours and times are getting worse. Some bozos may still be ordering $200 bottles of wine for dinner, but most folks are into saving their dimes.

In that budget environment, "free" is going to ring a special bell.