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Microsoft sets its sights on consumer security

Microsoft is coming out with free consumer security software — a move that could spell trouble for the leaders in the market.

The company said yesterday it’s discontinuing its Windows Live OneCare subscription security service next year and replacing it with the free software, code-named Morro. Morro will protect against viruses, spyware, rootkits and trojans, according to Microsoft.

wineCNET blogger Charles Cooper says Morro poses a threat to Symantec, McAfee and other leaders. (He even jokes about the “impeccable timing” of Symantec CEO John Thompson, who announced his retirement one day before Microsoft jumped into his company’s bread-and-butter market.) The sad state of our economy will make Morro an attractive option, Cooper says:

Some bozos may still be ordering $200 bottles of wine for dinner, but most folks are into saving their dimes. In that budget environment, “free” is going to ring a special bell.

Thompson has previously criticized Microsoft’s security play, saying the company has too much other stuff going on to get serious about security. At last year’s Symantec Partner Engage conference, he said, “As long as Microsoft’s worrying about video games and fighting Google, we think we’ve got a real opportunity to run the table.”

But in the year-plus since those comments, Microsoft has revamped its entire security division. The company combined its security and identity business groups, made a $75 million investment in sales and marketing and recruited 19,000 partners to sell its security software.

So, while Microsoft execs are still worrying about video games and Google, they have made security a priority — first in the business market, and now with consumers.

Still, the company could face some trouble. Microsoft News Tracker’s David Hunter says Morro is likely to “face hostility from antitrust regulators,” even though Microsoft claims it won’t be giving away any of the the higher-level functionality that its competitors’ software features.

But Cooper disagrees, because Microsoft isn’t bundling Morro with Windows or doing anything else to force people to use the software.

“There’s just no case to be made,” he says.

Barring any government interference, Morro will be available as a free download in the second half of 2009. Although Microsoft is discontinuing OneCare sales at that time, the company says it will protect current customers through the duration of their subscriptions.

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