September 28, 2006 4:00 AM PDT
European rivals turn wary eye on Microsoft
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In addition to a firewall, which was also part of XP, Vista will include anti-spyware software called "Windows Defender" and a new Windows Security Center that tells people the status of the protection on their PC. Security companies sell competing products.
Some of Microsoft's rivals have publicly complained about a feature called "PatchGuard" in the 64-bit version of Vista. Critics claim the feature locks out helpful security software, while Microsoft says it is designed to guard core parts of the operating system against attacks.
Meanwhile, other concerns that Panda, among others, have raised include the possibility that Microsoft could use its huge presence on desktops to promote its own security software. For example, it already advertises Windows Live OneCare on the default "Welcome Center" in Vista, which appears after the PC starts up.
In addition, Microsoft's own security products could benefit from better access to Windows. After all, the people who develop those products work in the same place as those who are building the operating system, several security companies pointed out.
"They will use any trick they can to link their security products to the operating system. Not everybody will be on an equal footing," Franco said. "They are in a better position to align their operating system and their security applications. They have the original access, not the early access."
Microsoft, however, argues that its own security product teams are on an equal footing with third-party software makers.
"We're not treating OneCare or Forefront differently than we're treating them. They're getting the same level of access," Robinson said. "Anything that OneCare or Forefront is using, any third party has access to that as well."
Rival security software makers are even welcome to come eat lunch in Microsoft's cafeteria and meet the product teams, she said.
"There is the fact that we are Microsoft and we're all sitting here in Redmond, but at the same time we do give access to ISVs (independent software vendors) here on campus, and they can come at any time to meet with the different product teams as well as have lunch in our cafeterias," Robinson said.
But Panda's Franco feels partners have been "fooled" too long by Microsoft's talk of partnerships. "If you really want better consumer security, there should be trust between Microsoft and its partners in security. Right now, Microsoft being a competitor, how do you build trust? There are too many conflicts," he said.
Sophos is a Microsoft partner and works with the company on several products. Munford believes Microsoft won't engage in any anticompetitive practices--it is more interested in selling Windows and Office, not security software, he said.
"I would say that Microsoft is very conscious at playing fair and making sure that what they are doing in the operating system does not give any unfair advantage," he said. "Microsoft is open to dialog with security vendors. At the end of the day, Microsoft is not interested in putting security vendors out of business."
Indeed, Microsoft doesn't intend to harm anyone in the security industry, analyst Raschke said. It has been forced to address security, he said, "or their products would not take off. Security is often the No. 1 inhibitor."
Computer security in depends on variety and innovation in security software, Commission spokesman Jonathan Todd told CNET News.com earlier this month.
"Microsoft's design of the security features in Vista should not put this diversity and innovation at risk. This might occur if reputable third-party security vendors, which have proven experience in addressing security problems, are prevented from competing on an equal footing," he said.
Panda has presented its case before the European Commission, but Franco would not say whether the company has filed an official complaint.
F-Secure has not yet spoken to the regulators, Siilasmaa said. "We trust Microsoft will do the right thing, and if they don't, everyone will be talking to the Commission," he said. "I believe that Microsoft will come to understand and accept that, and they will change some of the plans they have regarding Vista."
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