The market for anti-virus software is about to get very interesting with the entry of Microsoft into the space.

Microsoft is taking on the giants like Symantec, McAfee and others by launching OneCare, a $50 suite of products that will attempt to solve all of your computer maintenance chores. Not only does OneCare include anti-virus, but also the Windows Defender anti-spyware product, a backup software product, a firewall and disk maintenance utilities.

The big question is whether there is room for Microsoft in this already crowded market. Most corporate customers already have a contract with a provider, and I am sure Microsoft will go after that market hard.

On the consumer end, you're looking at a very fickle crowd. More than half of people never renew their contract after their first period when they install their anti-virus product. (For some, I am sure, it's a matter of cost; for others it is complexity.)

Some people never install an anti-virus product and happily go through their computing life hoping they won't get infected. (They will if they are running Windows.) So the idea of building even a basic version of OneCare into Windows (which you know they will for the upcoming Windows Vista) will at least expose folks to anti-virus products.

What is going to be interesting is whether 50 bucks will be the right price point for this product, or will people keep their current product. After all, there are several good products like AVG and Avast that offer free anti-virus protection to home users.

But despite good products being available for free, people are willing to pay for other things. Some do it out of habit; some to get the support. Otherwise no one would spend $450 for Microsoft Office and instead would simply go to Open Office ( and download the free version gratis. After all, Open Office is powerful enough for most users.

I like the idea of bundling all kinds of useful applications in one user interface together (sort of like the old Norton Utilities for DOS), so from that perspective I like it. If they all worked, 50 bucks is not too much to pay. The trouble with the spyware aspect is Windows Defender, while a capable tool in the spyware and adware arsenal, is nowhere near the only tool you are going to need. (If your PC is brand new, it may be enough to keep a new PC from being royally infected, because its warning systems are pretty good, but in terms of cleaning an already gone PC, you will need more help than this.)

I guess we need to wait and see for a complete review of OneCare until it has been out in the market for a while and we have a chance to pound on it in the real world. It will be interesting to run it against some best-of-breed utilities and see where the suite's components stack up.

In the meantime, make sure you are running some kind of anti-virus protection (something, anything) and you are keeping it up to date. Run a complete virus scan once a week on Fridays while you're sleeping and make it a regular habit. Run Windows Update on the second Tuesday of the month and your month is complete.

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James Derk is co-owner of CyberDads, a computer repair company, and a computer columnist for Scripps Howard News Service. His e-mail address is