Users and resellers of RAV AntiVirus, popular especially on Linux platforms, are in limbo after Microsoft's decision to buy the RAV technology from Romania's GeCAD Software.
Microsoft said it would discontinue the RAV product line once the acquisition of the technology is complete. GeCAD, which claims its products protect more than 10 million users worldwide, will support existing customers through the end of their contracts.
The acquisition has observers questioning Microsoft's ultimate intentions and wondering what the software maker wants with technology that powers leading virus scanning tools for e-mail servers on Linux platforms, rivals to Microsoft's Windows and Exchange products.
"I don't know why Microsoft bought a Linux company, GeCAD's Windows business is really small compared to their Linux business," said Andreas Marx, an antivirus software expert at the University of Magdeburg in Germany.
Marx has just completed a test of GeCAD's antivirus software for Linux and found that GeCAD "is really the best antivirus solution for Linux".
GeCAD's RAV AntiVirus for Mail Servers supports a host of e-mail server products, including the free Sendmail, Qmail and Postfix, and is available for a variety of operating systems, including many flavours of Linux and BSD. Pricing per e-mail domain instead of per mailbox is another major draw for users, experts and users said.
Marx sees the takeover as a big blow to Linux users especially. "There are alternatives, users can switch to other antivirus solutions, but it won't be very easy because RAV has many special features," he said.
"There is room for a conspiracy theory here. It could be possible that Microsoft wants to stop the solution for Linux."
Microsoft's Security Business Unit group manager Amy Carroll insisted the company was just interested in GeCAD's antivirus engine and its programmers.
"We acquired the assets and the technology because of the quality of the technology and because the team is a good fit. It would be hard to find an antivirus vendor who did not have products on multiple platforms," she said.
GeCAD resellers in the UK, US and Canada said the bulk of their RAV sales are sales of RAV Antivirus for e-mail servers on a Linux platform.
Asgher Ali, sales manager at GeCAD reseller Axia Computer Systems in Watford, said it was "a shame" that RAV products will disappear. The majority of the 60 or so customers who bought RAV products from Axia bought them for Sendmail on Linux, he said.
Microsoft was likely to have been interested in picking up good technology cheap, Katz said. But he doesn't discount the possibility that Microsoft also relished the opportunity to take a jab at its rivals in the Linux community.
"In my view, RAV was purchased because of its integrated virus and scan engine to add into their products. It was probably dirt cheap and maybe Microsoft got the added benefit of sticking it in the side of Linux users," said Michael Katz, president of RAE Internet in New York, the sole distributor of RAV Antivirus in the US. More than half of RAE's RAV customers use the software for Linux mail servers, he added.
"I was shocked by the takeover, RAV AntiVirus is a very good product and it was gaining market share. It would have become a strong market leader in the Linux market."
Joe MacDonald, owner of GeCAD reseller Focus Computer Consulting in British Columbia, believed the Romanian company was made an offer it could not refuse, but added that the takeover was a "step in the wrong direction for RAV".
About 90% of the customers buying RAV from Focus Computer bought it for mail servers on Linux, he said.
Joris Evers and Paul Roberts writes for IDG News Service
This was first published in June 2003