This week, Microsoft began sending out beta invites for its upcoming Windows OneCare Live product, an MSN service that will provide Windows XP users with managed antivirus, antispyware, a two-way firewall, data backup and restore capabilities, and other services. According to Microsoft representatives I spoke with last week, Windows OneCare is an extension of Windows that breaks beyond the boundaries of today's PC security products.

"Windows OneCare is a subscription service that guarantees that customers will stay protected online," Dennis Bonsall, the Group Product Manager of the Microsoft Technology Care and Safety Group told me recently. "It automatically fixes the things that most often detract from user satisfaction when using Windows: Security, data protection, and PC performance."

While Microsoft is currently shipping a beta version of an antispyware product--Windows AntiSpyware, which it will provide to consumers for free--Windows OneCare is a managed PC health service that goes well beyond just spyware protection. "When Windows XP was first launched four years ago, spyware wasn't a big deal," Bonsall told me. "Two years later, it is, and now we have Windows AntiSpyware. But it requires time and expertise from the user. And what about other problems? We figured we were the experts, so we can fix existing problems, as well as new problems as they come up, and we can automate it for customers. We'll do it in a trusted way, offering a full service solution."

While the company declined to speculate on the cost of Windows OneCare, I was told that it would be a yearly subscription. What is clear is what services Microsoft intends to ship with Windows OneCare. The services fall into three categories: Protection, performance, and backup and restore.

For protection, the product will offer a full, real-time antivirus solution that is based on the GeCAD software Microsoft bought, a two-way managed firewall that significantly cuts down on the number of dialogs a user needs to deal with, and a managed antispyware service that is based on Windows AntiSpyware but requires far less interaction. Additionally, the service will integrate with Microsoft Update to ensure that users' systems are always up-to-date with the latest security fixes.

Because customers often complain that Windows PCs slow down over time, Windows OneCare uses an automobile tune-up approach to PC performance. For optimal performance, PCs need to be analyzed and fine-tuned over time, and Windows OneCare will defragment and clean the hard drive, run AV and antispyware scans regularly, and scan changed files for backup. Users can view details performance reports that will explain how performance has changed over time.

For backup and restore, Windows OneCare will provide a somewhat innovative new category-based backup solution that backs up data to CD or DVD discs or to external hard drives. Rather than confuse people with a tree-based directory structure, Windows OneCare will automatically back up desired file types, such as documents, email, Internet Explorer Favorites, photos, or music; and/or common locations like My Documents. Restore is similarly streamlined: Subscribers can restore all missing files, files of certain types, or they can search for specific files to restore.

The initial OneCare beta is private but Microsoft intends to open up the product to a wide public beta in Q3 2005. The current beta is only about 70 percent functionally complete, I was told, whereas the public beta should be over 90 percent complete when it begins. The service will be provided through the company's MSN division.