Microsoft’s Morro: Does It Stand a Chance?

When Microsoft enters a market, such as search and virtualization, it is known for making aggressive moves by acquiring technology and by disrupting prices.

Earlier this week, Microsoft confirmed its plans to offers a free anti-malware service. Even though the software, codenamed Morro, is only in beta, competitors are watching developments closely.

And the trash talking has already started.

“Morro is essentially a stripped-down version of Microsoft’s failed OneCare product. It didn’t offer adequate protection when it was payware, and it offers even less as freeware,” said Dave Cole, senior director of product management at Symantec (NASDAQ: SYMC), in an e-mail to

“We’re confident that our customers value the security technology behind the Norton brand they’ve come to rely on and that they’ll continue to look to us to keep them protected from today’s threats,” he added.

Others said that there’s a niche role for free anti-malware.

“We think Microsoft’s decision to provide free antivirus software is an important step,” Tom Cross, IBM X-Force Advanced Research manager, said in an e-mail to

“Many people who cannot afford a comprehensive PC security suite may choose to install a free [antivirus] program, and this will reduce the reach of botnets,” Cross added. “While free antivirus is not a panacea for security woes, it could have a significant impact on the success of criminal operations that everyone in the information security industry is fighting.”

While the experts say that free software is just a good first step, market data from Forrester Research suggests that free software is all that many use.

The market is commoditized. “In the consumer market, free is what matters,” Forrester Research analyst Natalie Lambert told

In a study last year, she led a Forrester team in a survey of over 4,800 adults in North America who are online. In the report, “Consumers Combat Their Internet Fears With Free Protection Measures,” her team found that although users are afraid of viruses and identity theft, over 75 percent are using software either bundled with their PC or provided with their Internet service by their ISP.

The report recommended that security software vendors clearly articulate the value they deliver and use channel partners to reach consumers.

The report said that security vendors will need to provide other services besides security. “Take a lesson from Microsoft, McAfee, and Symantec and include more than just security features in your software. Think of your customers’ machines as entities that you must protect from all sorts of threats,” the report concluded.

Meanwhile, bloggers seem willing to give Microsoft the benefit of the doubt.

“I didn’t really trust Microsoft to do the right thing here — I was wondering if it was going to be available for Vista only to drive people away from Windows XP — but they’re doing the right thing and making it available for XP and Vista (as well as ‘7’),” wrote Eric Cameron, professor at Passaic Community College, in his blog.

“I also have my suspicions that this is vaporware, but that’s just me not trusting Microsoft,” he added.

“I’ll be one of the first to remove the antivirus software I currently use on my Windows installation and install Morro. We wish Microsoft, and Windows users, well in this new venture,” wrote a blogger at Intego, a company that provides security software for Macintosh computers.

But expectations among others are not too high.

“Will it be something hackers try to exploit? Of course, because it will be the security suite for ‘noobs’. However, it would be better to have a locked door rather than an unlocked one, even if the lock is easy to pick,” Cameron said.

“As a first line of defense, Microsoft will rely on the firewall built into Windows 7, but to be protected by Morro customers will need to download the software due to concerns that anti-trust ruling would prevent Morro from being baked into the OS,” added an observer on The Unofficial Windows Blog.

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