Microsoft Debuts Windows Live OneCare

After a year in beta testing, Microsoft on Wednesday took the wraps off Windows Live OneCare, its all-in-one security and PC care subscription service. That package includes antivirus, anti-spyware and PC tuning and backup tools, along with free support for $49.95 USD per year.

In an interview Tuesday, OneCare Business Strategy Manager Sam McManus told BetaNews that the service is targeted at the average computer user, and will let them "focus on enjoying their online experience."

"The reason we built [Windows Live OneCare] is the frustration we have heard from users," McManus said. "It's too complicated." According to Microsoft, very few customers ever perform backups, most have out of date security software, and over 70 percent do not use a firewall.

But such an explanation may provide little solace for Microsoft partners such as McAfee and Symantec, which are facing new competition in a market the Redmond company previously avoided. The $49.95 yearly fee enables customers to install the software on up to three computers.

Customers who do not wish to renew their subscription for $49.95 can continue to use the Windows Live OneCare software, but with limited functionality. For example, backups can continue to be accessed, but not created.

"Microsoft is aggressively pricing OneCare, clearly with the intent of quickly grabbing a bunch of new customers. Relentless consumer PC security problems give Microsoft good reason to act--for the preservation of its brand and protection of its customer," Jupiter Research senior analyst Joe Wilcox told BetaNews.

"But I question the method, of competing with longstanding and loyal partners like McAfee and Symantec, as the best approach. Increased Microsoft competition is a growing problem for the company's development partners."

Still, McManus said that Microsoft felt there was a lot of room for multiple players. "The response industry-wide is that this has been the right direction to go," she added.

Although OneCare will serve as a central management tool for existing applications such as Microsoft Update and Windows Defender, which provides the anti-spyware functionality, it does include some new features. Microsoft has implemented antivirus technology it acquired from RAV, along with a more advanced firewall than the one that ships with Windows.

McManus explained that Windows Live OneCare tackles a "new category" in the security space, an all-in-one utility that makes it easy for novices to stay safe amid a surge in online threats. McAfee is preparing a similar service code-named "Falcon," while Symantec has been working on a singular solution dubbed "Genesis."

"I wouldn't call OneCare a new category of product or category defining product. Many security software vendors offer PC protection suites," noted Jupiter's Wilcox. "While compelling, Microsoft's stoplight motif isn't exactly original."

AOL is also preparing its own comprehensive security and computer improvement suite tentatively called "Total Care." The service will be offered to both members and non-members for a fee, and is expected to go beta in the coming weeks, sources tell BetaNews.

Windows Live OneCare will be offered in retail locations and is available for purchase and direct download online. The service currently works with Windows XP Service Pack 2. Microsoft plans to bring OneCare to international markets in the coming months.

A beta version of OneCare for Windows Vista will be ready by the end of the year, McManus said.

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