Microsoft to replace Live OneCare with 'no-cost' anti-malware

Exactly one year after it re-announced the commercial subscription edition of its anti-malware service for individual Windows users, Microsoft announced it will discontinue Windows Live OneCare, replacing it with a free alternative.

The new service, which has yet to be formally named but which is being referred to by its code-name "Morro" (perhaps named after a famous Spanish fortress) is said to be constructed around the current anti-malware engine used as part of the Live OneCare service, though with a smaller footprint. The aim is to enable the new service to be used in devices with smaller memory and resources, probably including netbooks.

An explanation on the Windows Live OneCare team blog this afternoon reads, "Ultimately, we believe the decision to offer a security solution at no additional cost to consumers and phase out Windows Live OneCare is the right step to broaden PC protection and improve the Windows experience for more users around the world. Microsoft will continue to deliver on its commitment to provide consumers around the world with a world-class security solution."

There's actually a chorus of statements provided by Microsoft this afternoon, some of which refer to "no additional cost," which could lead some to wonder, "in addition to what?" But one corporate statement this afternoon specifically used the phrase "no charge to consumers;" and a Microsoft spokesperson confirmed to BetaNews this afternoon that "the new consumer security solution will be broadly available at no additional cost to anyone running Windows."

In a surprising admission for a typically well-scripted Q&A, product manager Amy Barzdukas said the key reason Microsoft chose to eliminate the charge for its new anti-malware service is to increase its usefulness in emerging markets such as China -- countries where Microsoft happens to be shifting its emphasis in its efforts to find shelter from the global economic storm.

"Many of today's consumer security models are based on annual subscriptions that need a credit card to renew," writes Barzdukas. "Given that many consumers in markets like Brazil, India and China do not have access to those types of payment services, it can be difficult to secure and maintain quality malware protection. There is also the issue of limited bandwidth and the growth of locally produced malware to consider.

"Even in developed markets, there are still obstacles to maximizing protection. Free trials can confuse consumers as to whether or not their PC is secure, and procrastination when it comes to renewing a paid service can mean that consumers aren't getting the most up-to-date protection," she continues. "By offering a solution that removes these barriers, Microsoft is reaffirming its commitment to provide core anti-malware functionality to the majority of today's PC users who either don't have protection, can't afford quality protection, or don't keep it up date."

The timing of OneCare's anticipated release is interesting. While it's being slated for the second half of 2009 -- the same timeframe as Windows 7 -- Live OneCare will officially discontinue sale at the end of the day June 30. While OneCare service will presumably still be active during the interval between its official end-of-life and Morro's premiere, that interval probably shouldn't be extended too far. And Morro's premiere, one would think, would likely coincide with that of Windows 7.

It's actually somewhat difficult to get an accurate count of the number of times Windows Live OneCare "premiered" or "debuted" since first word of its existence came in the winter of 2005; despite being version 2.0 at present, Microsoft statements now say the product actually premiered in November 2007. But a post-mortem will show that the service was born in November 2005, then exited beta for the first time in May 2006. Since then, it led a somewhat unhappy life, along the way having failed some security tests, deleted Outlook users' e-mail files, mysteriously canceled users' subscriptions at random, and blocking previously validated applications from running.

Today's descriptions of Morro make no mention of firewall-like capabilities, so that will probably be a function left to Windows Firewall. Perhaps with the smaller operating footprint, Microsoft could have better luck keeping its anti-malware client in good behavior.

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