Users and resellers of RAV AntiVirus, popular especially on Linux platforms, are in limbo after Microsoft announced plans to buy the RAV technology from Romania's GeCAD Software Srl.
The RAV product line will be discontinued after Microsoft completes the acquisition of the technology, Microsoft said. GeCAD, which claims its products protect over 10 million users worldwide, will support current customers through the end of their contracts, Microsoft said.
The acquisition has observers questioning Microsoft's ultimate intentions and wondering what the Redmond, Washington, software maker wants with technology that powers leading virus scanning tools for e-mail servers on Linux platforms, rivals to Microsoft's Windows and Exchange products.
"I don't know why Microsoft bought a Linux company, GeCAD's Windows business is really small compared to their Linux business," said Andreas Marx, an antivirus software expert at the University of Magdeburg in Magdeburg, Germany.
Marx has just completed a test of GeCAD's antivirus software for Linux and found that GeCAD "is really the best antivirus solution for Linux."
GeCAD's RAV AntiVirus for Mail Servers supports a host of e-mail server products, including the free Sendmail, Qmail and Postfix, and is available for a variety of operating systems, including many flavors of Linux and BSD. Pricing per e-mail domain instead of per mailbox is another major draw for users, experts and users said.
GeCAD resellers in the U.S., Canada, Australia and the U.K. interviewed by IDG News Service say the bulk of their RAV sales are sales of RAV Antivirus for e-mail servers on a Linux platform.
Marx sees the takeover as a big blow to Linux users especially. "There are alternatives, users can switch to other antivirus solutions, but it won't be very easy because RAV has many special features," he said. "There is room for a conspiracy theory here. It could be possible that Microsoft wants to stop the solution for Linux."
Microsoft is just interested in GeCAD's antivirus engine and its programmers, said Amy Carroll, group manager at Microsoft's Security Business Unit.
"We acquired the assets and the technology because of the quality of the technology and because the team is a good fit. It would be hard to find an antivirus vendor who did not have products on multiple platforms," she said.
Tucows Inc. in Toronto, famous for its "cow" review ratings of downloadable software, uses RAV AntiVirus to scan e-mail on a hosted e-mail service it launched earlier this year. The company runs CommuniGate Pro e-mail server software on Linux and found that RAV AntiVirus was its best choice.
"RAV is a very good solution, as good as or better than anything out there," said Tucows President and Chief Executive Officer Elliot Noss. Pricing played a large role in Tucows decision to go with RAV. "We had choices. We could have used a lot of the bigger vendors, but the economics weren't as good."
Although RAV AntiVirus was Tucows' first choice, the company doesn't think replacing the software will be tough. "We are not worried about backfilling on this," said Noss. Tucows will look at antivirus software vendors who don't add dollars to the price tag for brand recognition, he said.
Union College, a liberal arts college in Schenectady, New York, runs two Sendmail e-mail servers with about 4,000 e-mail accounts. It previously used antivirus software from Sophos PLC, but found that RAV AntiVirus offers the best virus protection for its buck.
"I researched antivirus solutions for a good eight months and this was the best deal for the money. We were using Sophos, which was way too costly the way they licensed it," said Michael Pate, academic systems administrator at Union College. "From a cost perspective it was US$8,000 to US$12,000 for Sophos as compared with $1,000 for RAV."
Now, said Pate, "We're going to start looking again. There are a couple of competitors that license in a similar way (as GeCAD) and that run on the Linux platform."
Users aren't the only ones left scrambling by Microsoft's planned takeover of the RAV technology. GeCAD has partners in 60 countries through which it sold the product who now will have one product line less to sell.
Glenn Lake, MD of GeCAD's Australian distributor, NetFreighters, said most sales of the AV product in Australia come from the business market, and namely from Linux users. Since taking on the distributor role in March this year NetFreighters has increased its number of resellers from 50 to almost 100 today.
RAE Internet Inc. in New Rochelle, New York, the sole U.S. distributor of RAV Antivirus, has more than 1000 customers for RAV's software in the U.S., most of them smaller Internet service providers, Michael Katz, president of RAE Internet said.
Microsoft was likely interested in picking up good technology cheap, Katz said. But he doesn't discount the possibility that Microsoft also relished the opportunity to take a jab at its rivals in the Linux community.
"In my view, RAV was purchased because of its integrated virus and scan engine to add into their products. It was probably dirt cheap and maybe Microsoft got the added benefit of sticking it in the side of Linux users," Katz said. Over half of RAE's RAV customers use the software for Linux mail servers, he said.
Asgher Ali, sales manager at GeCAD reseller Axia Computer Systems Ltd. in Watford, England, said it is "a shame" that RAV products will disappear. The majority of the 60 or so customers who bought RAV products from Axia bought them for Sendmail on Linux, he said.
"I was shocked by the takeover, RAV AntiVirus is a very good product and it was gaining market share. It would have become a strong market leader in the Linux market," said Ali.
Joe MacDonald, owner of Focus Computer Consulting in Kelowna, British Columbia, a GeCAD reseller, agreed.
"I think the takeover is a step in the wrong direction for RAV. I think they were stepping into a market and they were quite popular. I think they are walking away from a good thing," said MacDonald. About 90 percent of the customers that purchased RAV from Focus Computer bought it for mail servers on Linux, he said.
MacDonald thinks the Romanian makers of RAV AntiVirus just went for Microsoft's money.
"Is Microsoft using this as a method to take away commercial products from the Linux community? I think GeCAD just got offered a pretty big check that they could not say no to," he said.