With apologies to today's third-party antivirus vendors, I think it's time that Microsoft included an antivirus solution as a part of the base Windows OS. Desktop security is simply too crucial a concern to Microsoft—and more important, to Microsoft's customers—for a component that's so vital to a secure environment to remain an optional add-on. As long as antivirus measures reside solely in the hands of third-party vendors, large numbers of Microsoft OS installations will remain vulnerable to hundreds if not thousands of exploits, not all of which can be prevented through patching.

The Competition Question
I know that software vendors believe (often rightfully) that Microsoft eventually swallows up Windows third-party markets after it includes competing features as a part of Windows. Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) is probably the best example of that fear made manifest. At one time, Netscape Navigator held the lion's share of the desktop browser market, but soon after Microsoft bundled IE into Windows, Navigator became a footnote to Internet history.

Despite that fateful event, however, other browser choices, such as Mozilla and Opera Software's Opera Web browser, remain on the market. And I'd argue that, in the long run, Microsoft better served its customers by including a browser as part of the basic OS. Although the eventual role of the Internet wasn't clear all those years ago, Internet access has since become an essential part of today's computing experience.

Third-party software vendors' products also compete successfully with built-in Windows tools in many other niches. For example, even though Windows XP has built-in .zip file access, utilities such as WinZip Computing's WinZip have gathered a healthy following. Likewise, even though Microsoft has offered a version of Paint in every version of Windows, Adobe Photoshop is still widely used. Both third-party tools provide additional value beyond that of Windows' built-in tools.

The Case for Integrated Antivirus Protection
Since Microsoft has seen fit to include IE, Windows Firewall, and even nonessential items such as Windows Media Player (WMP), Microsoft Photo Editor, and Windows Movie Maker as part of the base OS, it only makes sense for Windows to also include antivirus software, an essential system security component. Of course, integrating antivirus software into the OS might hurt some third-party antivirus vendors in the short term. But as in other areas in which Windows offerings compete with third-party tools, vendors have the option to extend their products' feature set and abilities beyond a basic Microsoft offering. For example, some vendors might strengthen their products' network antivirus protection; others might concentrate on providing rapid protection against new worms and viruses.

Over the past couple of years, Microsoft has often stated that security is its top priority. In an April address at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmar asserted that Microsoft has an important role to play in securing the computing environment across the globe, stating that "All of us in the IT business are permanently in the security business as well." But until Windows includes built-in antivirus protection, Microsoft's claim that security is its top priority isn't credible. Just as bundling IE gave Internet access to more customers than Navigator ever could have and fostered the use of the Internet, integrated antivirus protection is requisite to enabling a basic level of security in today's Internet-connected environments.

A Necessary Step
Microsoft has already added numerous features to the OS that have questionable value to the user. Antivirus is one area in which Microsoft involvement is actually needed, and the value of built-in antivirus protection to Microsoft—and especially its customers—is both significant and obvious.