An interpretation of the hoopla about Microsoft Security Essentials

You can’t have missed the hoopla the other week about Microsoft Security Essentials http://www.pcpro.co.uk/news/security/384394/microsoft-security-essentials-is-designed-to-be-bottom-of-the-antivirus-rankings with the following quote of Holly Stewart’s being widely reported:

"We’re providing all of that data and information to our partners so they can do at least as well as we are," she said. "The natural progression is that we will always be on the bottom of these tests. And honestly, if we are doing our job correctly, that’s what will happen."

In a follow up post on the Malware Protection Center blog ( http://blogs.technet.com/b/mmpc/archive/2013/10/09/our-commitment-to-microsoft-antimalware.aspx) , Dennis Batchelder reiterated Microsoft’s commitment to protecting customers from malware.

My take on this is that the issue was one of miscommunication and a misunderstanding about the place of Security Essentials in the anti-malware ecosystem.

As stated in the original, MSE provides a baseline against which to compare other solutions. If you’re going to fork over money for a product, you want the product that you are going to fork over money for to be better than what you can get for free. This is likely what all this hoopla was about. It wasn’t a case of Microsoft saying “MSE is deliberately crap” – it’s more that by releasing MSE for free, the other vendors need to up their game. If other vendors up their game so that people have a reason to fork over their cash, then Microsoft isn’t really worried about MSE coming last in rankings because it means that every vendor is releasing a product that provides a good level of protection. Any vendor that can’t meet that benchmark set by MSE isn’t going to survive in the market.

There’s also an argument about diversity in the anti-malware ecosystem. If Microsoft did pour billions into MSE to make a free product better than anything anyone else can release, then the other vendors would be toast. Suddenly Microsoft would be the only anti-malware vendor because it’s very difficult to pay people to come up with kick butt anti-malware software when you can’t charge for it because your competition is giving away a better product for free.

So take this away from the hoopla: If you’re running MSE, you are well protected. It may be ranked low on comparative tables, but that’s because the game has changed and anyone who falls behind MSE isn’t going to be in business long. Prior to the release of MSE the products that were down the bottom of the lists were often rubbish. Once MSE came out, the game changed and anyone who wanted to stay in it needed to be able to show why people would pay money for their product when the free alternative was very good indeed.

 

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Orin Thomas is a contributing editor for Windows IT Pro and a Windows Security MVP. He has authored or coauthored more than thirty books for Microsoft Press, founded the Melbourne System Center,...
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