Will you be installing Microsoft’s anti-virus software?

You might at least be considering it after reading the latest announcement that Microsoft made this week.  After all, most virus scanners at the moment cost money, and if you combined them with a firewall they become even more expensive.

I have probably used nearly all of the major virus scanners in my time.  My first experience was with a scanner from McAfee that ran under DOS.  It must have been around 1990 and I remember removing the Jerusalem virus with it – from a 60MB (yes, MB!) hard drive.

Later I moved on to Norton (later Symantec) Antivirus, and even the Internet Security versions.  A number of my employers used their corporate versions as well.

But one year I had trouble installing the annual update, and so then I discovered F-Secure.   I stayed with them for about a year, until I finally ended up with Avira’s Antivir.  Here I have used the free version (privately), the premium version (which scans e-mails and websites) and the professional version (for my business computers).  I still find it the best virus scanner out there at the moment.

Other employers have used Trend Micro and McAfee (for Windows), whilst I have customers that use Kaspersky and G-Data solutions.  So you can see that there are a number of solutions out there, and I have experience with most of them.

Let’s turn now to Microsoft.  For the last couple of years there has been a programme out there called OneCare – Microsoft’s security package.  I have yet to see this running on any PC that I have come into contact with, not even at any of the trade shows that I go to.

So what will happen when they release their free anti-virus solution?  Of course, various computer publications will test it and then we will know fairly quickly how good it is.  But even if it doesn’t recognise absolutely everything, will users still be prepared to pay for a better scanner if they can have it for nothing?

It will be interesting to see if it comes pre-installed new computers.  If it does, then I am sure that Microsoft will have the same problems in Europe as they did with the pre-installed Windows Media Player.  Maybe they will have to pay another fine to the EU and produce a version without the pre-installation, but that doesn’t mean that user won’t still see it as a cheap alternative and use it anyway.

Although I can have Microsoft’s Windows operating system without the Media Player (so-called “Windows N”), I have seen very few computers that do not have it installed.  But the number of installations of other products such as QuickTime, RealPlayer, WinAmp, MusicMatch etc. are – in my opinion – declining.

Are the current anti-virus products doomed to suffer the same fate?

Looking back at Microsoft

With Bill Gates stepping down from his position running Microsoft, it’s quite interesting to take a look at how I have come into contact with their products over the years.

The very first computers that I had anything to do with came from Texas Instruments, Sinclair, BBC/Acorn and Research Machines – and none of them had anything to do with software from Microsoft. As it happened, some software for the Sinclair computers was written by Psion, who I later worked for myself.

But at some stage I came into contact with something called MS-DOS, although it may have been some form of PC-DOS on an IBM PC at the time. For many years that was probably the only piece of Microsoft software that I used regularly. At school we did have Windows 1.0 available and Word (for DOS) 5.0, but I don’t remember using them much.

Whilst at university my laptop (with 640K of RAM) ran on DOS 3.x, the university PCs and our computer at home ran on DOS 5.0 and Windows 3.1 or 3.11. It was not until I spent a year as a student in Germany that I really had much contact with Microsoft Office – Version 4.3 (ie. Word for Windows 2.0).

Ironically I probably had most of my contact with the inner workings of any Microsoft products during my time at Psion in Germany – usually working out why some file or calendar would not convert or synchronise with Microsoft Office products, or why the palmtop was not connecting properly to a new release of Windows.

These days the operating system has got much more complex – there is just so much to learn about Windows XP and Vista, not to mention and of the server operating systems. But with so much now web-based, the trend has reverted to simpler applications.

Products like OpenOffice.org and Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird have changed the way home users use their software, with Microsoft Outlook being something I normally only see in a corporate environment.

But whatever you may think about Microsoft’s software policies, there is one thing I definitely admire Mr. Gates for: unlike many IT managers out there, he started “hands-on” – he programmed computers, he wrote code for the company’s first products and grew from there.  He is not someone brought in “just” to run the company, but knows the background of what he is talking about.

When I look at what IT students study today and compare it with what I studied in the 1990s, I am sometimes horrified how little is taught about the “basics”.  I learnt how to structure a database and code it, I didn’t just click it together in a front end.  I learnt about how and why things happened, and what consequences actions could have.  I was studying at a time when memory was still a scarce and often restricted commodity – something many of today’s software developers would do well to remember.

I still have that laptop with 640K of RAM, no hard disc and a double disc drive. I serves as a good reminder of the days when finding a configuration problem meant looking from an INI-file and not searching the Windows registry. When you had to tell a word processor to start and stop formatting a piece of text, eg. bold, and didn’t see the end result until it appeared on the printer. When a backup of my data meant one or two floppy discs, and not one or two DVDs.

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