Out with Forefront security

Why third-party anti-virus vendors are ticked at Vista

It's good to hear people laugh. Like when I asked the InfoWorld editors if I could go to Barcelona to attend the Microsoft IT Forum that's going on there right now. At first, it felt good to give them some stress relief, but then they just kept chuckling until I had no choice but to get steamed. I mean, you've got to maintain their respect because the InfoWorld office is a lot like Oz -- the TV show, not the land created by L. Frank Baum. So on my way out of the office, I smacked the mail guy around a little. With his own shoes. Should restore the proper level of fear.

But that didn't get me much closer to Barcelona. So I had to resort to my vast network of Redmondian spies and informers. Although several lost their lives in the effort, I managed to find out that the big noise at the Barcelona show was the road map for PowerShell, and application management (yawn), and the fact that Forefront Client Security is available in beta.

Tangible bits and bytes are always better than road maps. Although after fondling those bits and bytes, I've must say that I'm starting to understand why the third-party anti-virus vendors are ticked at Vista. It's got little to do with how the OS is architected. It's got everything to do with how Forefront is a direct competitor to their enterprise products.

Forefront is a combination of internal and purchased solutions. Microsoft bought the Antigen software and turned everything into the Forefront security suite, which is going to span everything from the desktop to specific Microsoft server platforms. Forefront Client security is only the first part of that solution. Microsoft will be coming out with more of the suite in the next several months, starting with Forefront for Exchange and Forefront for SharePoint in December; you'll also see things such as compliance scanning (presently an internal solution code-named Spider) after Longhorn arrives. The combination means Microsoft will be able to offer an end-to-end client, server, and perimeter security solution that snaps directly into its management platforms.

And Microsoft is doing it right. Forefront Client covers the gamut of client security problems: general malware, viruses, spyware, rootkits and Trojans. It's updated by a dedicated security staff, so you're not worried about falling behind. On the administrative side, it's built to allow Windows admins to deploy new protection signatures as quickly as they come out. It's also built with policy administration in mind, so administrators can define specific agent protection settings. Flash forward to Longhorn and its Network Access Protection features, and you know this stuff is going to snick together as smoothly as a Marine's sniper rifle.

That's going to tick off the third-party anti-virus folks. Because companies like Symantec may be real good at giving customers what they need, but Microsoft is king of giving customers what they want. Easy interfaces and loads of information -- Web-based stat snapshots, e-mail alerts, and reporting up the hoo-ha. Forefront may be new, but to the third-party AV companies, the marketing blitz alone is going to make it serious competition.

Then again, Microsoft is doing its usual pricing strategy: CALs (client access licenses), and that usually means a whirlwind of increasing numbers when you actually try to buy something. Licenses for the server and more licenses for each desktop. Typically pretty easy to beat them there if you're not too greedy.

I've installed the beta on both an XP and Vista machine, but I'm not sure it's ready for Vista. The stuff kicked off the Program Compatibility Wizard and managed to install, but I'm not sure it's actually running right. Microsoft is only supporting the Vista Business edition with this beta release, and we're all running Vista Ultimate. On the XP side, it's working fine. I'd avoid a production machine, because this is beta security software, so you're not guaranteed timely updates. If this stuff doesn't slip up in keeping your signature protection up-to-date, it's going to make a big dent in the AV market next year.

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