Microsoft on Wednesday announced that its Security Essentials anti-malware product, which is currently available free to individuals, would also be given away to the very smallest businesses. Starting in early October, businesses with 10 or fewer PCs will be able to download and install Microsoft Security Essentials for free.

That sounds like a good deal, until you realize that businesses with 10 or fewer PCs were already downloading and installing MSE for free, because businesses of this size don't purchase software when they don't have to. So this is more like Microsoft formalizing an already-common activity.

Microsoft knows this, of course. "It's no secret that most small businesses today do not have a dedicated IT professional on staff to manage their IT resources," Microsoft Global Partner Experience Lead Eric Ligman wrote in a blog post announcing the offering. "By providing Microsoft Security Essentials to small businesses free of charge, Microsoft extends its commitment to help these companies save money and grow their business by offering no-cost protection from viruses, spyware, and other malicious threats."

MSE is a lightweight, fast, and effective tool for protecting PCs against viruses and other malware, and it integrates with the built-in security controls in Windows 7, Vista, and XP (SP2 and higher). I use MSE and recommend it to all readers, but I'd like to see Microsoft make this kind of security protection free across the board to all companies regardless of size. In fact, I've been calling for this change for almost a decade now. This week's announcement is another step, albeit a small one, in that direction.