For once, Microsoft "anti-competitive" practice really is a benefit

Delivering updates and virus signatures via Windows Update makes good sense.

Trend Micro is complaining that Microsoft offering updates to its surprisingly good Microsoft Security Essentials antivirus application is uncompetitive.  

 Computerworld's Preston Gralla gives a good rundown of the history and situation, which boils down to competitors not liking that Microsoft can piggyback MSSE updates on the same Windows Update service it uses to distribute patches and fixes for Windows.

 The best part in Gralla's piece is McAfee and Symantec dodging the chance to complain about Windows Update, but tearing down MSSE as ineffective and weak, like all the other free antivirus software out there.

 I hate to say it, but I've had better luck with free antivirus in general and MSSE in particular than I did with any of the paid apps I've owned or tested. Reviews of MSSE consistentlypraise it, often putting it above freeware favorites AVG and Avast. I hate to say it because I'm not accustomed to trusting Microsoft for a piece of software that runs quickly, fails rarely, and works at least as well as similar apps I've tried.

 Getting praise for anti-malware is an accomplishment for Microsoft and a stretch for reviewers that focus on or prefer open source and free anti-malware, because the two have never been on the same page before. Microsoft is usually the object of vilification for its tendency to ship multimillion-line software products that still contain flaws, and its history of weak or nonexistent security apps, either to avoid reinforcing the idea that Windows could be flawed, or to avoid interfering with sales for important ISV partners like Symantec and McAfee.

 Distributing it via Windows Update does give Microsoft an advantage, and I have no idea if a judge would consider it anti-competitive. Every anti-malware app has its own facility for downloading updates and virus signatures automatically; it's a little precious to insist Microsoft use something other than its best-tuned update service to do that when competitors have to launch new processes and take up new system resources to do it for themselves. That makes for an additional process for them, but more importantly, it's an additional hit on CPU cycles and performance that the customer doesn't need to take.

 Let Microsoft download MSSE updates any way it wants. I'm annoyed that I have to look under the Optional Updates to pick up new virus signatures, rather than getting them automatically with the rest of the critical updates. Usually the Optionals are things like a newer version of Silverlight than the one I deleted the last time I accidentally installed it and saw a performance hit.

 I'm happy to stick with that. Things Microsoft offers Optionally I can skip; virus updates, even if they're for an app that annoys competitors by being both free and competent, should be as automatic and troublefree as Microsoft can make them.

Kevin Fogarty writes about enterprise IT for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @KevinFogarty.

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