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Is Microsoft's free Morro antivirus any good?

PC securityMicrosoft is getting ready to offer Windows users a free antivirus product, code-named Morro. It's something Microsoft should have built into one of its operating systems a long time ago, but will it be any good?

The company's goal is to offer the antivirus product as a hosted service, which is very different from what users have come to expect, especially when the word "free" is attached to "antivirus". After all, Grisoft and Avast have offered free versions of their antivirus products to PC users, and those free products are of the traditional download-and-install nature.

Microsoft says Morro will be released as a public beta soon. There's no word on the final release. The big question is this: will users entrust their security to Microsoft and what may be a half-baked beta product?

It's worth noting that Microsoft is claiming that 'Morro' will be more than just a dedicated antivirus product. Microsoft is wrapping the term 'real-time anti-malware' around the service. Morro will work by routing all of a user's internet traffic to a Microsoft data centre, where the Morro application will process the traffic and identify and block malware in real time, by examining all of the rerouted traffic.

That will give Morro a leg up on the free competition. The free products from Grisoft and Avast are merely antivirus products and don't address real-time malware threats.

The benefits of costing nothing

By keeping Morro free, Microsoft has a lot to gain. First off it will help to sell Windows 7 when it hits the market in October. That will give Windows 7 the perception it has anti-malware technology built-in (albeit, as a service). Secondly, Microsoft can use Morro as an avenue to force users to patch their systems - quickly eliminating security flaws that are regularly discovered.

Finally, Morro will help Microsoft to build better products in the future, by being on the leading edge of malware protection. This helps Microsoft gain insight into how malware develops, spreads and infiltrates systems.

Of course a lot of questions remain about Morro. Questions that will need to answered quickly if Microsoft aims to succeed in the hosted antimalware area.

  • Will Morro remain free forever?
  • What user information will Microsoft gather with a Morro service?
  • Will the service still protect when a user is not connected to the web?
  • Will Microsoft keep the service as up-to-date as competing products?
  • Will Morro be available for all Microsoft OSes?
  • Will Morro noticeably impact performance?

Once there are solid answers to those questions, many will wonder what all of this will mean for the antivirus software market. Will a free security service from Microsoft push vendors such as Symantec, McAfee, Panda and Kaspersky out of the market? The answer is probably not. Most of the security software vendors do a lot more than just desktop anti-malware - the real expertise lies with protecting networks and providing products that prevent data leaks, kill spam and handle the other multitude of security ills that users can be exposed to.

At the very least, Morro should prove to be a marketing success for Microsoft, whether or not the service will be able to compete with commercial products is yet to be seen. At least the impression will be that Microsoft is concerned with security and is looking to protect its desktop OS customers.

See also:

Security news, reviews and tutorials

Security Advisor: PC Advisor's FREE 32-page web-security e-book

Free Microsoft antivirus 'coming soon'

Windows 7 RC1 review

PC World

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