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Microsoft security product makes official debut

Windows Live OneCare goes on sale in the U.S., marking Microsoft's official entry into consumer antivirus. Video: One on one with OneCare

Microsoft has started selling Windows Live OneCare, three years after it announced its intent to move into the antivirus arena.

OneCare combines antivirus, anti-spyware and firewall software with backup features and several tune-up tools for Windows PCs. The product went on sale in the U.S. online and in stores Wednesday. Microsoft said it plans to expand to international markets in the coming 12 months.

Windows Live OneCare

"We believe we're creating a new category," Dennis Bonsall, director of product management for OneCare, said in an interview. "It is not about security anymore, but it is about holistic PC care."

OneCare will cost $49.95 a year for use on up to three PCs in a home, a competitive price compared with rival products from traditional security vendors including Symantec, McAfee and Trend Micro. Many retailers plan to offer rebates and other types of promotions that will discount OneCare, Microsoft said in a statement.

OneCare is being sold on Microsoft's Web site, and boxed versions are available from retailers including, Best Buy, Fry's Electronics, Sam's Club, Circuit City, OfficeMax, Costco, Staples, Wal-Mart, Target, Office Depot, Comp USA and J&R Computer World, Microsoft said.

Industry analysts have said that businesses may be hard-pressed to buy security products from Microsoft--maker of the software that needs protection. On the consumer front, however, Microsoft brings a well-established and largely trusted brand into the market, these analysts have added.

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Video: Microsoft launches its security service
Windows Live OneCare provides a mini-IT department for those who want a managed service to provide virus protection, anti-spyware and firewalls. CNET's Robert Vamosi takes a look.

Microsoft announced its intent to offer antivirus products in June 2003 when it bought Romanian antivirus software developer GeCad Software. Plans for OneCare were announced in May 2005. Invited testers have been trying it out since last July, and a public test version was released late last year.

About 500,000 people have tested OneCare. Tens of thousands of those testers took advantage of Microsoft's April offer to buy the service at a discounted rate of $19.95 per year, and selected testers have been offered the service for free as part of a "perpetual beta," Microsoft said.

Incumbents in the security market are preparing to respond to Microsoft's entry by integrating features into single products and moving to a subscription model for pricing. McAfee is working on a new product, code-named "Falcon," and Symantec has a project, dubbed "Genesis." Both are set to rival OneCare.

The global antivirus market is growing; revenue reached $3.7 billion in 2004, up 36 percent from 2003, market researcher IDC said in December. IDC forecasts that the antivirus market will grow to $7.3 billion in 2009.

With OneCare, Microsoft is targeting consumers, especially those who do not run security or have let their current product expire. The company said it believes 70 percent of consumers fall into that category. In a January research note, the Yankee Group estimated the niche as a market worth potentially $15 billion.

OneCare is aimed at consumers. Microsoft is also eyeing the enterprise security market. It is working on a new Client Protection product to defend business desktops, laptops and file servers against malicious code attacks. A public beta of Client Protection is slated for release in the third quarter.