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Microsoft gets into security business with OneCare

Small business owners are concerned about PC security, data backup and virus protection, but aren’t necessarily doing anything about it. Security tools are often complex and intimidating, requiring regular updates and renewals. So Microsoft decided to get into the security business by introducing Windows Live OneCare, a security add-on for PC maintenance.

Many small businesses are more vulnerable to cybercrime than they realize, according to the 2005 Small Business Information Security Readiness Survey of 1,000 small businesses in the U.S., conducted by the Small Business Technology Institute. Of those surveyed, 56 per cent had experienced one or more security incidents in the previous year. And almost one-fifth didn’t use virus scanning for e-mail.

Small business owners worry if they’re exposing themselves to risk, if online banking is safe or if someone is reading private e-mail, says Bruce Cowper, senior program manager of Microsoft Canada’s Security Initiative, during a roundtable discussion with journalists in early March. But of those who actually have anti-virus software in place, few actually keep it up to date. And few do regular backups of their data or perform regular maintenance ”“ such as defrags ”“ on their PCs.

“That’s the driver behind OneCare,” says Cowper, “to bring all of those together.” OneCare ties backup and 24-hour technical support with security tools such as anti-virus, anti-spyware, anti-phishing and two-way firewall. It costs $59.95 for a 12-month subscription (it sends out an advisory when it’s time to renew) and one licence is good for three machines. The current version doesn’t support large enterprises.

“The user experience online has started to get fragmented,” says Sumeet Khanna, director of Windows Live Services with Microsoft Canada. People today use their PCs for much more than just storing data files. And he sees backup as the number-one concern going forward.

OneCare allows users to schedule automatic tune-ups and regular backups. “It makes backups really easy,” he says. “You don’t have to worry about the back-end.” It only backs up files that have changed to make the process faster.

Gemma Moore is the owner of MG Moore Designs, a web design company in Toronto, who was using a variety of security tools, including Symantec and Spy Sweeper, on her PC. Every time she turned on her PC, she would get pop-ups from the various security tools she had installed on her machine.

Moore has been piloting OneCare for the past month and likes the familiar user interface and the convenience of a single dashboard for all her security requirements. She also set up the software to do automatic backups on DVD and an external hard drive. “It’s a lot more clean,” she says.

But some industry players question why Microsoft is getting into the security business. “Microsoft has got a huge installed base of customers,” says Jon Arnold, IP communications analyst with J. Arnold & Associates. “They know the computing environment.”

Also, the Microsoft interface is familiar to users, he added.

“The user experience has to be intuitive and easy, or it’s just not going to happen,” he says. “[OneCare] is a low maintenance kind of product ”“ there’s a convenience factor that’s really valuable, more so than the price point.”

In the long term, a familiar interface will make users feel more comfortable trying out new things.
“We’re used to being a big target,” says Microsoft’s Cowper. Security has always been a factor that developers consider when writing new code, he said. And they glean information about viruses from Hotmail ”“ which he refers to as the largest virus collector in the world.

Another issue that small business owners must contend with is technical support. When something goes wrong, they don’t know where to turn ”“ the store where they bought the equipment, the hardware vendor or the software vendor.

And this tends to bring out a lot of emotions. “People hate being bounced around,” says Microsoft’s Khanna. “Someone needs to take ownership of that customer.” Part of the OneCare package includes 24-hour support via phone, e-mail or chat.

But other security vendors aren’t standing still in the SMB space. When Microsoft announced its entry into the market, McAfee and Symantec both announced new initiatives ”“ Falcon and Project Genesis ”“ that would compete directly with OneCare.




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