Microsoft releases antispyware beta

The software maker has offered a test version of the spyware-fighting technology it acquired in its recent purchase of Giant Company Software. Microsoft also said it has created a community site devoted to spyware reporting.

Microsoft today made available for download a test version of its Windows AntiSpyware product. The public beta is available in the software company's Download Center.

The Redmond, Wash.-based software

When Microsoft released [XP SP2] there were instances of people having so much spyware on their systems that the service pack wouldn't install correctly.

Michael Cherry, analyst,

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maker announced last month that it would release an antispyware program after its acquired privately held antispyware maker Giant Company Software Inc. of New York. The new software is based on Giant's technology.

"I think it's interesting how fast they managed to get the beta out in that they only acquired Giant Software late in 2004," said Michael Cherry, lead analyst for Windows and mobile at Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash., consulting firm. "Here we are really in the first full week of January and they've gotten the beta out. I think that shows that they're very serious about getting some spyware prevention tools out to customers."

Cherry sees it as a necessary move for the software giant. "When Microsoft released Service Pack 2 [for Windows XP] there were instances of people having so much spyware on their systems that the service pack wouldn't install correctly," Cherry said.

Amy Carroll, director of Microsoft's security business unit, said that while the software is a client-based solution, IT administrators are encouraged to test it. The official product release will depend on feedback from the first beta test, Carroll said, and it hasn't yet been decided how or when a final product will be shipped, packaged or marketed.

"For us, it's a continuation of the work that we've been doing to focus on improving security for our customers, and it's a natural outgrowth for the work that we've done with Windows XP Service Pack 2," Carroll said. Windows AntiSpyware beta supports Windows 2000, Windows XP and Windows Server 2003.

For now, analysts see the tool as a step in the right direction.

"From [Microsoft's] perspective of the consumer market, it's an acknowledgement that consumers are starting to get upset that the Internet has become such a hostile place, and

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Opinion: The spy(ware) who shagged me

they want somebody to solve it," said Peter Firstbrook, a program director for Stamford, Conn.-based Meta Group, which is being acquired by Gartner Inc. "Microsoft is taking the blame, whether it's their fault or not."

Firstbrook said the corporate market would not be affected by Microsoft's release, as most enterprises already utilize antispyware and antivirus technology across their networks. However, he thinks Microsoft's involvement in the antispyware arena may help drive spyware vendors out of the game. "I think it's an important first step," he said.

Cherry agreed.

"I want to be very positive about this," he said. "I think it's very good that Microsoft has gotten the product out. I think we will have to see how the product works over time. This kind of software relies on people reporting spyware to Microsoft and then Microsoft adding that information about the new spyware into the tool so that the tool gets updated."

What remains to be seen, he said, is how the tool works and how Microsoft responds in the long run. "I think that they're showing that they're going to be very committed to this by their actions," Cherry said.

Microsoft is also coordinating a worldwide SpyNet community that users are free to join to report spyware and discuss antispyware issues.

"We're particularly excited about the SpyNet community," Carroll said. "It gives you the opportunity to suggest things that you may have encountered that are spyware to the community. [It] helps to identify new and emerging threats as people are experiencing them."

Microsoft advised users of the Giant's antispyware software to continue running it. When that software expires, Microsoft recommends a complete uninstall before downloading the beta Windows version of the technology.

"The Giant Company's software product and our initial beta are not so very different," Carroll said. "We didn't want people to have any confusion." Giant's product is still receiving full technical support, she said.

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