Microsoft has partnered with several software vendors to offer free antivirus software to help ameliorate expected Y2K virus problems. The company's Web site offers links, categorized by language, to the antivirus partners. You can download the software any time between November 1 and December 31, 1999. Once you download it, the software will remain functional for 90 days. Experts are predicting a viral meltdown as 2000 approaches, and there are substantive reasons for believing that viral activity will increase as Y2K rolls around. Virus producers like to set “time-bomb” viruses for notable dates. The Mao virus, for example, hit the college community particularly hard, wiping out hard disks across the US on the birthday of Chairman Mao, the late Communist leader of China. These viruses can be especially destructive because they lie dormant for long periods, passing unnoticed from computer to computer. As in the world of biological viruses, computer viruses with long incubation periods can be particularly deadly. Given the sense of humor of many virus makers, and the history of major-date time-bomb viruses, we can probably expect some number to be set for January 1, 2000. Also, analysts predict that as network administrators and IT staff become busy preparing for other Y2K-related issues, they might neglect virus protection. According to the Microsoft Web site, two actions are critical. “One is to install the antivirus software by December 31, 1999; the other is to check the chosen antivirus software manufacturer's Web site periodically for updated virus signature files. These signature files can change daily and are also offered free of charge during the 90 day trial period.” Microsoft Director of Y2K Readiness John Jones explained that these companies are offering the same packages they typically offer commercially, but for an extended trial period. Microsoft isn't paying these companies, he explained; they’re doing it for “the marketing and the leverage of Microsoft’s Web site.” He added that “customer response has been great.” English-language partners include Symantec, Network Associates, AntiViral Toolkit Pro, Trend Micro, Norman, and others. When we went to visit a few of these sites on November 1, we had a hard time finding any software to download. The AVP site offered no free downloadable software, and the link to the Symantec site lead to a non-functional Web page. Data Fellows, makers of F-Stop, offered only its standard 30-day trial package. Only at Norman did we find any reference to the Microsoft deal. They offered 90 days of functionality of their full commercial product. Let's hope the other Microsoft partners will get their acts together and get us some software.