Microsofts OneCare Live Security, Big Trouble For McAfee, Symantec and co.

Microsoft has detailed pricing and availability for OneCare Live, a security service that is designed to bring antivirus, antispyware, and backup capabilities into one constantly updating online package.

Announced last spring, OneCare Live has been available as a free beta since November 2005. This week, Microsoft set pricing for the service at $49.95 per year, an annual subscription fee that will cover up to three PCs.

OneCare, which officially will be available in June, was developed after research at Microsoft showed that most people’s computers are insufficiently protected from malicious threats because they find the protection process confusing and frustrating. Microsoft also found that consumers were concerned with a lack of regular backup maintenance.

In addition to backups, OneCare will provide a “just take care of it for me” service that includes antivirus software, firewall protection, automatic security updates, and spyware-fighting capabilities.

Although OneCare was announced last year, the rollout of the service might still create some friction between Microsoft and its security partners like Symantec and McAfee. Microsoft’s service undercuts the pricing on security software from both companies, potentially creating conflict in the partnerships.

“To a certain extent, Microsoft always has conflicts in how it deals with partners, and Symantec and McAfee won’t be any different,” said Gartner analyst Peter Firstbrook. “You go to bed with a sleeping giant and he might just wake up and crush you.”

A potential advantage for the security-software makers, Firstbrook said, is that many enterprises do not trust Microsoft to fix security problems in a heterogeneous environment, so it is likely that OneCare Live will not completely replace Symantec and McAfee at the enterprise level.

But in the consumer and small-business markets, the security vendors might have to gear up for a fierce fight, especially because consumers have been grumbling about the pricing of security software in the past few years.

“There’s a fair bit of resentment in the marketplace about antivirus vendors just taking people’s money and providing the same level of protection,” he said. “Customers want more proactive defense measures, and they haven’t gotten them.”

Symantec, at least, already is gearing up for battle. With Microsoft’s OneCare announced nearly a year ago, Symantec has had time to create its own online service, and analysts were not surprised to see it unveiled on the same day as Microsoft’s.

Code-named Genesis and scheduled for release in the fall, Symantec’s offering is geared toward Windows XP and the forthcoming Windows Vista, Microsoft’s next-generation operating system. Symantec’s Genesis service, like OneCare, is designed to provide continuous protection.

It is likely that similar offerings will crop up in the marketplace as security vendors work to compete with Microsoft’s service, Firstbrook noted.

“The state of the art in antivirus protection hasn’t changed much in the past six years,” he said. “But with Microsoft’s entry, it could cause other vendors to be more active in development.”

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