WinInfo Daily UPDATE, February 16, 2005

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In the News

- Special Report: Microsoft to Offer Free AntiSpyware, Major IE Update for Windows XP

==== In the News ====

by Paul Thurrott, [email protected]

Special Report: Microsoft to Offer Free AntiSpyware, Major IE Update for Windows XP

Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates surprised analysts yesterday during his keynote address at the RSA Conference 2005 security show in San Francisco when he announced that his company would offer its Microsoft Windows AntiSpyware product to consumers for free and issue a major new version of Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) for Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) users later this year. Previously, Microsoft had pledged to not ship a new IE version until Longhorn, which is due in May 2006.
"Our primary goal is to improve security and safety for all our customers--consumers and businesses, regardless of size--through a balance of technology innovation, guidance and industry leadership," Gates said. "We're committed to continued innovation that addresses the threats of today and anticipates those that will undoubtedly emerge in the future." In addition to the Windows AntiSpyware and IE news, Gates also pledged to release a paid, managed version of Windows AntiSpyware for businesses, announced the completion of the long-delayed Microsoft Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server 2004 Enterprise Edition, and briefly discussed the company's antivirus plans.
Microsoft's decision to release Windows AntiSpyware for free is a good one: Arguably, the many security problems in its IE application are largely behind the growing malware threat that Windows users face today. "Spyware ... is something we need to nip now," Gates said. "We made the decision that all of our Windows licensees should have \[antispyware\] capability." Gates noted that more than 6 million people have downloaded the free Windows AntiSpyware beta since it was released in January. He also noted that the free Microsoft Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool, which is automatically downloaded from Automatic Updates and Windows Update, has been installed and run on more than 133 million PCs since the first version shipped in January.
News of a new IE version--which Gates said will be called IE 7.0--was also unexpected, mostly because the company had routinely denied that it could ship such a program before Longhorn. As recently as November 2004, Microsoft Director of Windows Product Management Gary Schare went on a press tour to discuss misconceptions in the press about IE security. He told me at that time that Microsoft wouldn't ship a major new IE version until Longhorn. That's all changed: Responding somewhat gallantly to customer requests, Microsoft is changing its browser strategy and will release IE 7.0 in 2005.
The decision to ship a new IE version comes with many caveats. First, IE 7.0 will be available only to XP SP2 users. Customers using earlier versions of XP or other Windows versions need not apply. Microsoft justifies this decision by noting that only XP SP2 includes the underpinnings necessary to secure IE 7.0. Also, although Gates noted that IE 7.0 will include major new security enhancements, including technologies to combat phishing, malware, and spyware, he was tight-lipped about whether IE 7.0 would include major new functionality. Many customers, for example, have been asking Microsoft to add the tabbed browsing capability that's common in other browsers, such as Mozilla Firefox. Finally, Gates noted that the same IE 7.0 version that it will ship later this year would be rolled into Longhorn in 2006.
As far as XP SP2 goes, however, Gates had nothing to report but success. More than 170 million copies of XP SP2 have been distributed to customers worldwide, Gates said. And 77 percent of the 800 enterprise customers Microsoft polled recently told the company that they're committed to deploying XP SP2 within the next 6 months.
Gates also announced that a beta version of Microsoft Update, the online Web service that will eventually replace Windows Update and update all supported Microsoft applications, servers, and services, will appear in mid-March. Also, the long-awaited Windows Update Services (WUS), which replaces Microsoft Software Update Services (SUS), will ship in the first half of 2005: This tool will help small- and medium-sized businesses develop a patch-management infrastructure inhouse for free. And the enterprise edition of ISA Server 2004 is finally complete, Gates noted. ISA Server 2004 Enterprise Edition adds enhanced manageability, scalability, and availability, according to the company.
As for Microsoft's expected antivirus solution, Gates had little to say. It will be a "broad consumer offering," he noted, that will be available by year's end. That date's a lot later than many people had expected, with some analysts predicting that Microsoft's antivirus solution would soon ship in at least beta form. Gates didn't discuss licensing or pricing, nor did he offer many details about the enterprise antivirus product based on Sybari technologies that the company will develop.
Despite the amazing array of security-related announcements, Gates didn't express much confidence that the company would absolutely be able to repel every electronic attack. "I'm very optimistic \[that\] we will be able to mitigate the security problems," he said. That's nice, but it's a far cry from an unequivocal pledge to end the pain Windows users feel.

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