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Of course, if Microsoft can reach these less security-savvy PC users, the payoff could be worthwhile for Microsoft as well. Quite worthwhile. Andrew Jaquith, a senior analyst on the security solutions and services team at Yankee Group, a Boston, MA-based IT research outfit, estimates that the market for downloadable anti-virus subscription services in 2005 will amount to only about $400 million – which means plenty of growth potential.

With a compelling offering, Jaquith believes Microsoft could establish itself in the consumer security market. This would generate a continuing revenue stream – something the company does not have with most of its existing products. “Microsoft has made all these feverish attempts to extract revenue on a regular basis, and nothing’s stuck,” says Jaquith. He points to the lackluster response to its MSN online service as one of its failed attempts to create continuing revenue.

Not surprisingly, though, other industry observers – especially those at established security companies – are alternately critical and skeptical of Microsoft’s new-found role as a protector – given its oft-publicized problems with security holes and other vulnerabilities.

“I personally think it’s unconscionable for [Microsoft] to enter this market for a profit,” says Gregor Freund, founder of Zone Labs, a security solutions provider, and chief technology officer of Check Point Systems, which owns Zone Labs. “It’s like a protection racket…I don’t think Microsoft has the moral right to profit from its shortcomings.”

What’s more, Freund believes that Microsoft’s role as the leading maker of operating systems would conflict with its role as a security services provider. “It will be a constant struggle for them to achieve two very different goals,” Freund says.

McManus at Microsoft counters that “all software contains vulnerabilities,” adding that the Redmond, WA-based company is “committed to keeping the number of security vulnerabilities in our products to a minimum – this is evidenced by measurable improvements in the security of our software.”

McManus’ claim seems to have some credibility. According to research by the Yankee Group, the number of vulnerabilities in anti-virus and security applications has recently begun to outpace the number of those discovered in Microsoft products. From January through May 2005, the researchers tracked 23 flaws in security products, a significant increase over 2004. Meanwhile, they found only 22 vulnerabilities in Microsoft software.

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