Microsoft to buy Romanian antivirus company

Microsoft has announced it is buying Bucharest, Romania-based antivirus software vendor GeCAD Software Srl for an undisclosed price, triggering speculation from analysts that Microsoft has its eye on competing directly in the antivirus market.

Microsoft said it had signed a definitive agreement to purchase GeCAD Software, which makes the RAV AntiVirus line of products for Windows and Linux operating systems and applications that include Microsoft Exchange and Novell GroupWise. Microsoft said the GeCAD acquisition was being done so that Microsoft could provide "antivirus solutions for Microsoft products and services."

In a press release, Microsoft also emphasised that the GeCAD acquisition might also be of benefit to "third-party antivirus vendors so they can provide customers with increasingly secure and comprehensive levels of virus protection."

Microsoft was not immediately available to clarify its intentions in the antivirus software market or to explain how buying GeCAD would actually help antivirus software competitors, the largest being Symantec and Network Associates.

"While we still need to understand the full implications for this announcement, we applaud Microsoft's efforts to develop an operating system upon which antivirus vendors can build more effective protection," a Symantec spokesperson said.

Some analysts watching Microsoft's growing interest in the antivirus software market were speculating that buying GeCAD was Microsoft's first step in pushing into what would be a new market.

"Definitely, this is the case in the long run," Forrester Research analyst, Jan Sundgrun. It could take years for Microsoft to play a dominant role in the antivirus software market, Sundgrun said.

Other analysts see a broader use of the GeCAD software than just for antivirus signature updates, which are typically required to protect against newly discovered worms or viruses attacking servers or desktops, frequently by exploiting software holes.

With GeCAD, Microsoft "gains a fully vetted subscription-based model where they should be able to add things like patches and other types of software updates in connection with providing signatures for known viruses," research director at consultancy Spire Security,Pete Lindstrom, said.

The GeCAD purchase by Microsoft was "extremely valuable for desktop antivirus replacement", he said.

The GeCAD acquisition by Microsoft could eventually end up pushing the antivirus industry into a model fostered by Microsoft, at least for antivirus protection on Microsoft operating systems and applications.

Microsoft already creates antivirus Application Programming Interfaces (API) that make third-party antivirus software run more efficiently in Microsoft Exchange. These Microsoft antivirus server APIs are used by most major antivirus software vendors.

There is general anticipation in the software industry that Microsoft will also have a set of desktop antivirus APIs in the next version of the Microsoft operating system, code-named Longhorn, that is at least another year away from production.

In other public steps indicating growing interest in antivirus issues, Microsoft last month also founded the Virus Information Alliance with third-party antivirus software vendors to share information about malicious code.

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