OneCare and the Anti-Virus Market

I have been too busy to actually install and play around with the Microsoft OneCare Beta. I have heard that it is a reasonably good product and I am inclined to believe that it is. Most of the reviews I have read are what I would expect for a beta product; there are some nagging features that don’t work or seem curiously designed but that many of the components don’t work. Microsoft has spent a lot of time thinking about how this product ought to work and I can only assume that they will get it right, either as OneCare or as some integrated portion of Vista.

Most of the press has really focused on how this product announcement is the death knell for consumer anti-virus desktop products. Obviously, a free (or nearly free) product with reasonable functionality will certainly deter some portion of customers from continuing to renew their subscriptions. I can only infer that the recent price hikes in anti-virus renewal pricing is a tacit recognition that now is the time to extract maximum value from the customer before the market goes sideways with the introduction of Microsoft’s product.

What hasn’t been as widely discussed, however, is that there are other changes that could happen in the enterprise market that could be just as damaging to the overall profitability of the segment. The growth of open source anti-virus products is finally beginning to get some attention from the press and others. Specifically, Clam A/V is garnering some interest from customers looking for alternatives to McAfee, Trend, Symantec, or their current vendor of choice.

Could an open-source anti-virus product upset the apple cart in the enterprise space? I don’t know. But it is possible. Looking at other companies that have had some success (JBoss, MySQL, and a host of others), there seem to be a few key attributes to a market that is ripe for open source penetration. Market maturity seems to be a pre-requisite. That is certainly true. A second pre-requisite seems to be a market pricing structure that is unattractive to smaller organizations (see the database market). I think we have that here. Third, you need customers who have some ability to do integration/development on their own to advance and support the product. Security is a big deal. I am sure that there are people in corporations who could contribute here.

This is just conjecture. I am, however, interested to see what happens to this market if Microsoft is successful in making the consumer market less attractive for its competitors.