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The 'Morro' of the story

Microsoft consumer security may become free, but expect to hear a lot less about Morro once the company pulls OneCare from retailers' shelves.

Microsoft shocked the security industry on Tuesday by announcing that it will stop selling its consumer-focused Microsoft OneCare security software. Instead, Microsoft said that it will offer a new free alternative dubbed "Morro" in mid-2009. What does this sudden change in direction mean?

1. Microsoft is cutting its losses
After two years of hawking OneCare, the company barely made a blip in consumer security market share and was probably bleeding red ink. It is cheaper to give away Morro than to package, distribute, and promote OneCare.

Windows Live OneCare logo Microsoft

2. There's a reason to remain in the market
So why not kill endpoint security altogether? Good question. As long as Microsoft continues to offer Forefront (i.e., its commercial endpoint security product), Morro is a relatively easy thing to support. Alternatively, I can't see Microsoft walking away from any PC software. The PR implications of doing so are too dire.

3. Morro won't kill other alternatives
Free is pretty compelling, but it is nothing new. Users could opt for a strong free alternative today called Clam AV, but Symantec, McAfee, Trend Micro, and Kaspersky still do pretty well with consumers. Users either don't know about Clam or believe that "free" software must have a catch. On another note, about 40 percent to 50 percent of consumers still buy security software at their local Best Buy, Frye Electronics, or Staples. With no revenue stream, I can't see Microsoft boxing up Morro and paying for shelf space, so Morro won't even be available to a large percentage of the potential market.

4. Microsoft won't bundle Morro in consumer Windows
Ten years ago, I have no doubt that Microsoft would have made security part of the operating system. Heck, Microsoft gave away its antispyware software as recently as 2006. Pursuing this course of action doesn't make sense in this case, however. Aside from the obvious antitrust issues, there is another strategic reality here. Netscape and Internet computing threatened the Microsoft franchise. Symantec Endpoint Protection does not.

Whether industry pundits admit it or not, Microsoft has made great strides in security over the past five years, both in terms of products, processes, and industry leadership. These advances are extremely visible in the enterprise market, but even Microsoft couldn't extend this momentum into the brutal and fickle consumer space. There are too many other fast-growing, highly profitable market segments for Microsoft to pursue, so it simply makes no sense to keep fighting in a crowded market with dwindling margins.

Microsoft consumer security may become free, but expect to hear a lot less about Morro once Microsoft pulls OneCare from retailers' shelves.