It seems innocuous enough: If Windows Update detects that your PC doesn't have a valid antivirus solution installed, it will offer the free Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) software—but only through the Optional Updates UI, to which the user has to manually navigate. But to those companies that earn massive revenues off the gullibility and fears of PC users, that's not fair, and they're calling on Microsoft to halt this offensive practice of trying to protect users for free.
"Windows Update is a de facto extension of Windows, so to begin delivering software tied to updates has us concerned," Trend Micro General Manager Carol Carpenter told Computerworld recently. "Windows Update is not a choice for users, and we believe it should not be used this way."
Antivirus provider Panda isn't willing to jump the shark along with Trend Micro, but it does have a complaint of its own. "We agree with Microsoft: It's better to have some protection than \\[to not have\\] any at all," a Panda representative writes in a blog post. "We encourage Microsoft to continue using Windows/Microsoft Update but instead to push all free antivirus products available on the market, not just MSE." Separately, Panda CEO Juan Santana told CNET that he expected antitrust regulators in Europe to put a stop to this.
It's time for a little sanity.
Although Microsoft has been understandably tip-toeing around the issue of bundling its anti-malware solutions with Windows, I'm curious why there hasn't been legal action requiring the company to do so. After all, it is Microsoft's poorly designed software that's causing all these problems. Shouldn't the software giant be required to fix the problems in its own products—and for free?
And though I couldn't care less about the fate of the leech-like anti-malware market that has sprung up in the wake of Windows, certainly these companies could simply sell PC users products that actually do more (and offer better malware protection than) Microsoft's free solution. These guys arguing against Windows Update are like car makers arguing against seat belts or air bags (which they did): They're choosing their own businesses over your safety.
And let's be clear: Contrary to the Trend Micro comments about Windows Update, the MSE download is, in fact, a choice. Indeed, a user would need to manually navigate to the Optional Updates section of the software to even discover that this choice was available. If anything, it's too subtle. If you don't install or keep an anti-malware solution up to date, you should be confronted with the choice, explicitly. That's the least it should do.
I've been calling on Microsoft to provide free anti-malware capabilities as part of Windows for about a decade now, and as the years go by, that need becomes only greater. Microsoft has inched toward this obvious future, first by releasing a low-cost solution called OneCare and more recently by releasing a free solution in MSE. Placing MSE in Optional Updates is a next logical step. But it should just be part of Windows.
I suspect that Trend Micro, Panda, and other security vendors understand this and accept the inevitability of it. But they're also clearly determined to keep it from happening for as long as they can.