McAfee Protests Microsoft’s ‘Dangerous’ Vista Policy

Software security firm McAfee turned up the heat on Microsoft with a full-page ad in Monday’s Financial Times of London charging that the software giant is trying to hamstring independent security companies from overcoming inherent weaknesses in Windows security. McAfee accused Microsoft of engaging in “dangerous practices.”

With the upcoming release of Vista, the successor to Windows XP, Microsoft for the first time is denying McAfee, Symantec and other security firms access to the core of the operating system. That makes it more difficult to make security software compatible with it, says the ad, which is signed by McAfee Chairman and CEO George Samenuk.

“With its upcoming Vista operating system, Microsoft is embracing the flawed logic that computers will be more secure if it stops cooperating with the independent security firms,” the ad states.

Echo of Windows Media Battle

Vista’s default install is bundled with a firewall and anti-spyware, but not antivirus software. There is an icon that enables the user to subscribe to a free service that includes antivirus support.

Vista is currently in widespread public testing and is due to begin corporate public testing next month. It’s still officially scheduled for public release in January 2007, which is two years off the original schedule. The most recent version of Windows came out in 2001.

What is now occurring with respect to security software is similar to the battle in Europe over Microsoft’s inclusion of the Windows Media Player in Windows XP, suggested David Mercer, an analyst at Strategy Analytics.

In 2004, the European Commission found that Microsoft had violated antitrust laws by bundling the free Windows Media Player with its operating system, thereby hurting competitors RealNetworks and Apple.

In 2005, the EC ordered Microsoft to sell two versions of Windows XP — one with the media player and one without. However, “at the end of the day, it had virtually zero impact as far as what Microsoft was selling,” Mercer said, because most people bought the version with the media player.

Futile Gesture?

By posting its complaint in a European newspaper, McAfee may be maneuvering to get the European Commission involved once again. European antitrust regulators have expanded their inquiry into Vista because of Microsoft’s plans to bundle encryption and handwriting recognition software with the OS, the Financial Times reported Monday.

Even if the EC brokers a deal to the Windows Media Player, “experience suggests there is little that people can do to actually change the products that Microsoft makes,” Mercer said.

“At the end of the day,” he noted, “the lawyers will be having a good time. That’s the one thing you can say with any certainty.”

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