Microsoft: You Won't Sell More Windows Licenses By Not Making Microsoft Security Essentials Free To Everyone

Like the "free bike" in the TV commercial, Microsoft Security Essentials should be free, not "free, but".

I have a lot of good things to say about my experiences using Microsoft Security Essentials. You know Microsoft's doing something right when Symantec and McAfee start slinging FUD, whining about MSE being warmed over OneCare (and, I liked OneCare btw). But Microsoft most definitely stumbled in one very important aspect of Microsoft Security Essentials: it suffers from the "it's free but..." syndrome. Microsoft is contradicting itself about the very reason they offered Microsoft Security Essentials for free. Like the kid's bike in the bank TV commercial where the bike's free only as long as you keep it within the outlined box, Microsoft Security Essentials is free to almost everyone, with one important restriction. And that restrictions contradicts the very reason Microsoft says it's offering Microsoft Security Essentials for free.

Where's the contradiction? Let me explain. First, here's Microsoft's stated reason why Microsoft Security Essentials is free:

Microsoft indicated it is offering Microsoft Security essentials for free because "we still see far too many consumers worldwide that do not have up-to-date protection either because they cannot afford it, are concerned about the impact the suites will have on the performance of their PCs, or because they simply do not realize their AV software is not up to date." -- Network World article by Ellen Messmer.

Sounds reasonable to me. Microsoft's giving away MSE so that all those Windows systems out there who either can't or won't run some anti-virus program will now get malware protection for free using MSE. Microsoft wants to curb the problem of all the unprotected computers who are open to, or most likely already have, been compromised by malware and become part of a botnet or are infecting other computers. MSE is free, so just put it on every system and the problem potentially gets a lot smaller, reducing (Microsoft hopes) the Windows malware problem in the process. Money's not standing in the way of protecting every Windows computer. Well, almost every Windows computer. Here's the contradiction.

Microsoft Security Essentials only works on computers that can pass the Windows Genuine Advantage test... only on legit installations of a Windows OS. But what about all the illegal or unlicensed Windows systems out there? Microsoft just going to leave them wide open to being compromised? They are just as much the problem as legitimately licensed Windows systems. If Microsoft's reason for providing Microsoft Security Essentials is to curb the problem of all those systems "who either can't or won't run some anti-virus program", then MSE should be free for use on EVERY computer running Windows, regardless of whether they pass the Windows Genuine Advantage test. If those computers' owners are too cheap to buy a $49 anti-virus software subscription, they certainly aren't going to lay down $200 plus to buy Windows.

Microsoft, you're playing the same game as the guy giving the kid the free bike in the TV commercial. It's free but, don't drive it outside the lines we defined. Putting such a restriction on MSE doesn't accomplish your stated goal. Sorry Windows users, use Microsoft Security Essentials but not if you aren't really a Windows customer.

You still won't significantly reduce the infected and vulnerable world of Windows computers out there ready to launch the next DDoS or botnet attack. Does Microsoft think people running illegitimate copies of Windows will suddenly say, "oh my gosh, I can't run Microsoft Security Essentials... better go buy a Windows license so I can install their free malware tool." Yes, that's as ridiculous as it sounds. Limiting Microsoft Security Essentials won't decrease the population of illegitimate Windows systems running out there, and it still leaves a vast quantity of Windows systems that still won't have any anti-malware protection.

I'm sure giving Microsoft Security Essentials away for free couldn't get by the Windows licensing police at Microsoft, but this is another of those shoot yourself in the foot moves big companies like Microsoft makes.

So Microsoft, which is it? Is Microsoft Security Essentials really out there to reduce the population of unprotect Windows computers, or will you keep splitting hairs, contradicting yourself by making an ill-fated attempt at getting some Windows users to cough up some dough for a license? Which is it? Is Microsoft Security Essentials going to be free or not?

Like this? Here are some of Mitchell's recent posts.

Recent Podcasts:

Mitchell's book recommendations: Also visit Mitchell's other blogs and podcasts:

Visit Microsoft Subnet for more news, blogs, opinion from around the Web. Sign up for the bi-weekly Microsoft newsletter. (Click on News/Microsoft News Alert.)

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

SD-WAN buyers guide: Key questions to ask vendors (and yourself)