Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Microsoft to charge users for Security

If you bought a car and it broke down every couple of months due to flaws in the design and assembly would you pay an extra annual charge of up to 25% of the original cost of the car so the company will provide you with protection from those problems? Nope you'd probably expect the car to be recalled and fixed for free.

Now unfortunately the same rules don't apply to software (maybe fortunately for me as I work in the software industry, but lets put that to one side). Microsoft make the operating system that is used on 90% of the worlds desktops. They sell Windows XP Home Edition for $199 and now they want to charge users $49.95 a year for extra protection against viruses and spyware.

Called Windows OneCare Live, the subscription service will compete with security products made by traditional Microsoft partners, including Symantec Corp. and McAfee Inc. although the software giant insists that its aim is not to run those companies out of business.

Ok I recognise that it would cost too much for them to provide the software for free, and it would be anti-competitive if they did since it would exploit an effective monopoly to put companies like Symantec and McAfee out of business, but it still seems unfair to the users. Flaws in their software are at the root of the problems, though it takes a hacker or virus writer to exploit them. Now they will get paid to protect people from those flaws, so one way of looking at is that they could get paid more the more flaws they introduce into their software. I'm not saying they would do it deliberately, but there would exist a financial incentive to not improve quality.

Also if they are going to provide anti-spyware and anit-virus software don't they have a major and unfair advantage over the companies already in the field. After all they can just load up the Windows source code and find a fix for the security hole, where as the others would have to patch over it.

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