Why Microsoft should not build antivirus protection into Windows

Most people in the technology field don’t realize how truly awful it is out there with regards to viruses and spyware. I’ve been traveling around the country promoting my book “Always Use Protection: A Teen’s Guide to Safe Computing,” and the stories I’ve heard are horrific. People are truly learning to hate their computers.
A recent blog in the Scobleizer is but a small example, but one of the comments that suggested Microsoft build in anti-virus capability to Windows is way off.
Having Microsoft build anti-virus protection into Windows would be a disaster.
Let’s ignore the antitrust issues. Let’s even ignore the question of whether Microsoft can be trusted to build a good antivirus product.
Right now there are a decent number of antivirus vendors. The competition among them is helping improve the overall protection of antivirus products. More important, the variety makes it very difficult for a virus/worm to target all of them (remember – viruses love to disable antivirus programs).
What would happen if Microsoft included antivirus protection in Windows?
It would immediately suck a huge amount of the revenue that antivirus companies use to survive and use to develop their products. Even if vendors had a better product, the vast majority of people would just stick with the built in antivirus program. The Microsoft antivirus program would quickly gain a dominant market share. We’ve seen that story before.
Not only would this reduce the competition that drives improvement in antivirus programs, it would create a huge juicy target for viruses. Just as most viruses now target Internet Explorer, most would target the built-in protection. Computer security is far too important to take a chance on this. Microsoft took the right approach with XP SP2, checking to see if an antivirus program is present. They should continue with this approach.

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7 Responses to “Why Microsoft should not build antivirus protection into Windows”

  1. Eric G. Harrison Says:

    Dan, you make a *very* good point, and when you factor in all of the other things you ignore (antitrust, etc) this becomes
    what should be a clear cut case of something not to do! Let’s all hope that Microsoft is listening and doesn’t let their
    need for additional cash flow override good sense (again). – Eric.

  2. Duncan Says:

    The real problem is that antivirus programs rely on updates to be effective – if the application hasn’t been updated recently then the protection is minimal. If anti virus programs could be developed that shared virus deifinitions with each other (via P2P) and also were able to mutate when attacked (changing their base addresses, window class anmes etc.) there would be such a large number of “products” that no worm or virus author could target them all.

  3. Chris Says:

    Couldn’t one argue that Microsoft adding rudimentary anti-virus would be a protection for the rest of us from those that refuse–or are too ignorant–to install their own anti-virus software? You’d be surprised how many users don’t have *any* anti-virus software installed. :^(

  4. Claudio Friederich Says:

    I think whether or not MS adds antivirus capability is largely a non-issue. For users who are any bit careful, antivirus programs do more harm than good. I worked for a company whose clients were so plagued with viruses that 75% of their e-mails were infected. I downloaded over the years gigs of files and programs from the web. I have no antivirus software at all, and I was never infected with any virus, addware, or spyware, ever. At one point I used antivirus software, and the bugs in this well intentioned software wasted more of my time than any virus could have. That is when I decided that antivirus software operates at too low a level, is too difficult to manage, and its bugs too catastrophic in their effects for it to be worthwhile.

  5. Jorge Says:

    Claudio, scan your computer. You would be suprise how much spyware you have.

  6. Antivirus Programs Says:

    Dave…

    Interesting topic… I’m working in this industry myself and I don’t agree about this in 100%, but I added your page to my bookmarks and hope to see more interesting articles in the future…

  7. Mark Says:

    Microsoft ROCKS!!! I feel so bad when people say bad things about microsoft! Apple looks like a toy, and Microsoft is the best!

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