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Report: Microsoft shaking up security market

A new Forrester analysis says Microsoft is already gaining on the top security vendors, but the battle for security mindshare is just beginning.

Security vendors have good reason to worry about Microsoft's recent efforts in their sector, according to a new report from Forrester Research Inc., which states that as the software giant will roll out some significant security tools in the next year, security companies must shift focus to survive.

"Microsoft is definitely shaking up the security market," said Natalie Lambert, an analyst for the Cambridge, Mass.-based research firm. "They will force the consolidation or folding of vendors that produce antivirus and small point products like antispyware. They will have to focus more on security suites or get out of the market."

Lambert offers several examples of Microsoft's progress, including the added security teeth in Internet Explorer (IE) 7 and the upcoming Windows Vista, which will include the Windows Defender antispyware tool. Then there's Windows OneCare Live and Microsoft Client Protection.

"The company will also enter the messaging security market with Antigen security products for Exchange, Live Communications Server, and SharePoint," she said. "And for customers seeking hosted messaging protection, the company offers Microsoft Exchange Hosted Services."

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The good news for security vendors like Cupertino, Calif.-based Symantec Corp. and Santa Clara, Calif.-based McAfee Inc., Lambert said, is that Microsoft still has obstacles to overcome if it ever hopes to top the market.

Despite its progress on security, she said Microsoft will find it difficult to sell security to consumers and businesses that may be skeptical of its ability to protect even its own operating system. Microsoft's products will also start off at a functional disadvantage, which competitors will take advantage of by accelerating their evolution toward integrated suites that manage a range of client and network security functions.

Symantec and McAfee have already taken strides in that direction, Lambert noted. Last month, for example, McAfee launched its Total Protection service, designed to combine and manage all the elements of a comprehensive corporate security system through a single console and agent platform.

McAfee is offering basic and advanced versions of Total Protection for both small and large businesses. It includes antivirus for all tiers of the network, as well as antispyware, antispam, a desktop firewall, host intrusion prevention and a complete network access control system, according to the McAfee Web site.

"This is a good example of a company trying to stay at the forefront despite Microsoft's moves," Lambert said.

In the current market, Lambert said, Microsoft's advantages are pricing and integration with its own infrastructure products. "There is no doubt that organizations sensitive to these issues will turn to Microsoft, despite its limited offerings," she said.

However, she added, "the more demanding and more scrutinizing security organizations will prize the greater functionality companies like McAfee, Symantec, and Trend Micro can provide."

Lambert said her final conclusion is this: Microsoft has made a lot of security improvements and deserves a chance, "but that doesn't mean trust them completely. Put them in a bake-off and make them prove their worth."

Lambert compiled the recently released report to answer questions from Forrester clients who are considering using Microsoft security products.

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