Microsoft's free antivirus: is this an apology?

Morro's real-time anti-malware service, which will route all the URLs you want to visit by Microsoft first for a check against known malware sites, ought to be a winner

Who should know more about PC threats than the company whose software makes most of them possible? Is Microsoft's upcoming, free anti-malware app the company's way of apologizing to customers?

Not hardly. The free service, codenamed "Morro" and due in beta "soon," appears only after years of Microsoft trying and failing to sell a protection product called "OneCare," which routinely landed low in the protection ratings.

As I said, you'd think Microsoft would know more about solving its own security problems than anyone, but if that were really true, we'd face fewer problems in the first place, right?

Microsoft also badly needs to do something to add zing to the Windows 7 release. That's zing, not Bing, which will, presumably, already be in Windows 7. Maybe Morro is supposed to be the feature people will upgrade to get.

There are times when even "free" isn't worth the price, and Morro may be one of them. Granted, it's not even in beta yet, but Morro will have to do much better than Microsoft's previous efforts to be worth anyone's time.

Morro's real-time anti-malware service, which will route all the URLs you want to visit by Microsoft first for a check against known malware sites, ought to be a winner. As quickly as Microsoft finds out about a malware location, it would immediately protect Morro users from it.

Of course, this requires that the Morro servers not slow down the user's browser performance and raises privacy concerns. What will Microsoft do with all your browsing data? Nothing too bad, I suspect, but it's always worth wondering and asking.

We also don't know whether Morro will always be free and what operating systems it will support. If it's Windows 7-only and turns out to be good, Microsoft will have missed a golden opportunity to build goodwill. If it turns out to be OneCare Part II, XP users will be glad we couldn't download it by mistake.

That puts Morro firmly onto my "wait-and-see" product list.

You may also be wondering what impact Morro will have on the entrenched anti-badstuff companies, such as McAfee and Symantec. Probably zero, at least in the near-term. Theoretically, a really great Morro, available for all Microsoft desktop operating systems could kick the legs from under consumer protection software.

It is hard to believe that will happen, though it would be a welcome end to consumers not being protected nearly as much as they need to be. It is hard to argue with free protection, though it is already available. It could be that the wide promotion of paid consumer products simply drowns out the free options that are available, such as Grisoft AVG and Avast.

Granted, that's not great software, but the price is right if you need something and aren't willing to spend.

Maybe that's what Morro will be: A last-ditch attempt to get protection to people who don't understand the need for it. Microsoft could actually name it Zing--as in "Zing the Bad Guys!"--and spend another $100 million advertising it. Or maybe "Zap," "Pow," or best of all, "Bang!"

Probably not, but Morro, while worth watching is not yet something to get excited about. Unless, of course, it's a slow summer day and the iced tea is running low.

David Coursey actually used OneCare on one of his machines. He didn't feel very cared for. He tweets as techinciter and can be e-mailed from the form at www.coursey.com/contact.

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