On Tuesday, Microsoft announced the pricing structure for Windows OneCare Live, its upcoming subscription-based safety and security software service for Windows XP users. Additionally, the company revealed its expected timetable for delivering the service to consumers.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

 

Microsoft describes OneCare Live as a PC health service that runs continually in the background on a PC, providing round-the-clock protection and maintenance capabilities. The product includes a virus scanner and a two-way firewall, performs various system tune-ups, and has a data backup feature. Later this year, Microsoft will also integrate OneCare Live with Windows Defender, the company's antispyware solution.

 

Dennis Bonsall, a Microsoft group product manager, told me last week that Microsoft would deliver another round of beta versions for of OneCare Live in late February and April 2006, then deliver the product to consumers in June 2006. OneCare Live will cost $49.95 a year and will protect as many as three PCs as part of its home licensing, although Bonsall noted that the initial version of the software will be liberal about letting users install the product on more than three PCs because Microsoft won't introduce a PC deauthorization feature until a later release.

 

"We're treating this as a subscription, not a fixed purchase," Bonsall said. "That's driven by customer feedback: People find the yearly upgrade process with security software to be confusing." Additionally, Microsoft will include free phone, email, and online chat-based support with every OneCare Live subscription. Microsoft tested all three support formats during the beta period and found that testers enjoyed all of the formats. Speaking of testers, those who beta-tested OneCare Live will be able to purchase the final product for $19.95 during the first year if they purchase a subscription during April 2006. After that, the price reverts to the standard $49.95. "It's an appreciation thing," Bonsall said. "A number of testers have given us valuable feedback. It's just the right thing to do."

 

One feature that will be missing from OneCare Live is the integration of email client-based antispam technology. Microsoft told me that most of its customers are happy with the antispam features their email provider or ISP offers, and that including an antispam function in OneCare Live would be redundant. Looking to the future, Bonsall tells me that new versions of OneCare Live will be more configurable and customizable and will offer more seamless integration with Windows Defender (the initial OneCare Live version will ship before Windows Defender is finalized). Customers can download updates of OneCare Live from Microsoft's Web site, so they won't have to wait for future versions to get new functionality.

 

The final version of OneCare Live will be compatible only with Windows XP with Service Pack 2 (SP2), although Windows Vista will also support OneCare Live when Vista ships in late 2006. OneCare Live will be available as a Web download and also sold in retail and online stores. The initial version of the product will be localized to English and available only to the US market, but Microsoft expects to begin international beta testing by the end of 2006.

 

Many readers have asked me to provide a OneCare Live review or preview, and after discussing this with Microsoft, I've elected to wait until after the February beta release to do so. At that time, all the new features should be included in the release and we'll see a more complete version of the product.