Microsoft will complete its entry into the desktop security market this week with the general release of its Windows Live OneCare antivirus software.
OneCare, which also includes backup and PC tuning software, has been available for free in beta form since last November, but as of Thursday customers will be able to purchase the final, supported product, according to sources familiar with Microsoft's plans.
OneCare will cost $US49.95 per year, which will cover licenses for as many as three Windows XP PCs. That means that "98 percent of homes in the U.S. will be able to buy one subscription and be able to cover all of their PCs," Microsoft group program manager Brian Hall said in an interview earlier this year.
A spokeswoman for Microsoft's public relations agency declined to comment for this story except to confirm that the product would be available for purchase from the Web and in retail stores "in the next few weeks."
OneCare includes firewall, antivirus and backup software, as well as Microsoft's Windows Defender antispyware technology. The product also takes care of routine maintenance tasks like defragmenting the hard disk and cleaning up unused temporary files.
Microsoft portrays OneCare as part of a new category of "PC care" products that handle technically challenging tasks. But analysts say that the product clearly targets the antivirus market, dominated by companies like Symantec, McAfee and Trend Micro.
"This is really competing head-on with the antivirus vendors," said Andrew Jaquith, senior analyst with Yankee Group Research.
Market-leader Symantec, which sued Microsoft last week claiming misappropriation of intellectual property, is clearly anxious about the software giant's entry into their market space.
Company executives have said that they expect to compete against Microsoft by offering superior technology and staying one step ahead of their new competitor. "Microsoft is very much focusing on the old-world problems of viruses and worms," said Symantec chief hinancial officer James Beer, speaking Monday at the JP Morgan Technology Conference in San Francisco. "We're focusing on what we would call the new-world problems."
Symantec is readying an alternative to OneCare, code-named project Genesis, that is expected to ship by year's end. And the company's next generation of security products will concentrate on preventing things like cybercrime and identity theft, Beer said.
Though Microsoft's size alone makes it a formidable competitor, analyst Michael Cherry says the company has no special advantage when it comes to the hardest part of selling antivirus software: convincing users to renew subscriptions.
Cherry, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, estimates that 60 percent of antivirus users decline to renew their software licenses. "I don't see how Microsoft can nag people any more than Symantec or McAfee," he said.
OneCare is presently available to U.S. residents only. The software is being beta tested by hundreds of thousands of users. The beta software can be downloaded here: http://www.windowsonecare.com.