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Microsoft offers businesses a security test drive

Forefront Client Security will go up against established security products from companies such as Cisco Systems, Symantec and McAfee.

Microsoft on Tuesday released a public test version of Forefront Client Security, a new product to protect business computers against malicious code attacks.

Forefront Client Security is designed to shield PCs and servers from threats such as spyware, viruses and rootkits. It will go up against software from Cisco Systems, Symantec, McAfee and others. The product was announced in October last year, and an early version has been available to selected testers for several months.

"There is strong demand for Microsoft to enter the security products area," said Margaret Dawson, a group product manager at the Redmond, Wash.-based software maker. "Microsoft's longer-term vision is to reduce the need for add-on security products, but that evolution will take time."

The company is ramping up its efforts to convince businesses that it is the solution to, not the source of, their security woes. In June, it unveiled Forefront as a single security brand for businesses. Earlier this year, it launched the Windows Live OneCare security service for consumers.

Microsoft pitches Forefront Client Security as a good fit for Windows users. "What customers are looking for from Microsoft is products that are easy to integrate, easy to deploy and easy to manage, with a user interface that is familiar to them," Dawson said.

In addition, the software maker on Tuesday said new versions of Forefront Security for Exchange Server and Forefront Security for SharePoint will be available next month, to coincide with the release of Exchange 2007 and SharePoint 2007.

The security products for Exchange and SharePoint are application-specific shields against viruses and spyware, and they also filter spam and inappropriate content. The products stem from Microsoft's acquisition of Sybari in February last year. Microsoft first stuck its new Forefront-brand on former Sybari products this summer.

"We're providing an overlay, to provide greater security for your deployed infrastructure," Dawson said. "It is an additional level of security over the built-in security in the platform or applications."

Also on Tuesday, Microsoft released updated "optimizers" for its Intelligent Application Gateway (IAG), a remote access product acquired through the takeover of Whale Communications this year.

The refreshed SharePoint Portal Optimizer and a new Dynamics CRM Optimizer provide customized, policy-based access, content inspection and improved performance for secure remote access to Microsoft Dynamics CRM 3.0 and Microsoft SharePoint, the company said.