Commentary: EU Jumps the Shark in Latest Vista Complaint

Most consumers probably appreciate that entities such as the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and the European Union's (EU's) European Commission (EC) are looking out for their best interests. But if the EC's latest demands are to be taken at face value, its contempt for Microsoft has finally gotten in the way of common sense. The EC has actually asked Microsoft to remove some of the security features from the upcoming Windows Vista OS to protect the security add-on software market.

"The Commission understands Microsoft's desire to make Vista more secure than its predecessors," an EC spokesperson said this week. "\[The innovation that comes from a variety of security companies\] could be at risk if Microsoft was allowed to foreclose the existing competition in security software markets. Less diversity and innovation would ultimately harm consumers through reduced choice and higher security risks."

Sorry, but that's insane.

The security add-on software market is based on a simple concept: Third-party security products plug holes in Windows. As Windows has improved over time, and as customer needs have changed with the popularity of the Internet and an increase in electronic attacks, these products--including Windows--have had to evolve. So Windows, naturally, will become more secure. And these add-on products will adapt to supply more functionality. This is how it should be.

This week, I spoke with Stephen Toulouse, a security program manager with the Microsoft Security Response Center (MSRC). He told me that, contrary to the EU's complaints; Microsoft has been working with security add-on software companies to ensure that these companies won't be excluded from Vista. A feature in Vista called the Security Center will both advertise third-party security products and integrate with these products, and Microsoft will let these companies brand parts of Vista with their own logos and icons, providing customers with an integrated experience. When customers use or install third-party security products, Vista's security components will retreat and let the third-party products simply take over. This functionality will also be important for PC makers, Toulouse told me, because they often strike their own deals with security software makers.

Microsoft's vision of a collaborative effort between itself and its security software partners strikes me as more realistic than the EC's view. More to the point, the EC's complaints don't strike me as consumer-friendly; instead, they seem to be protective of corporate interests. Windows needs to be more secure. In the end, that will benefit everyone.

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