Gates at RSA: Better Security, New Version of IE

SAN FRANCISCO, CA--Bill Gates, Microsoft chairman and chief software architect, made two big announcements during his conference-opening keynote at this week's RSA security conference in San Francisco. He told attendees that his company was on track to deliver the first version of "the ultimate mail virus protection" for Windows users by the end of this year. He also revealed that Microsoft will be releasing a new version of the Internet Explorer browser with strong, built-in security features.

Microsoft has been on a three-year campaign to improve the security and reliability of its software, which runs on 90 percent of the world's PCs. The Redmond, WA-based software giant's products are favorite targets of crackers and malicious programmers. Under the auspices of the company's Trustworthy Computing initiative, the Microsofties have been scrubbing at the bull's eye on the company's back with an almost religious intensity. Microsoft is spending one-third of its $6 billion annual research and development budget on security products, Gates said.

The new security offering will utilize technology from Sybari Software, which Microsoft recently acquired. Sybari is a provider of anti-virus, anti-spam, and content-filtering solutions for enterprise customers.

"We looked at what we're using internally at Microsoft," Gates said, "and that was the Sybari product. We looked at what they'd done with the multiple engines, the different layers of scanning, and really specializing in infrastructure and drawing on others for the virus engines."

The Sybari acquisition came on the heels of December's acquisition of Giant Software Company, provider of anti-spyware products. Less than a month after that acquisition, Microsoft released a beta of a new anti-spyware tool. In June 2003, Microsoft purchased GeCAD Software, a Romania-based maker of anti-virus detection and data security products.

Microsoft released a test version of its new anti-spyware product in January, and Gates said that Microsoft will offer a free bundle of anti-spyware with existing desktop software in the months ahead. "Spyware is something that we've got to nip now before it gets worse than it is today," Gates said. "And I'm very excited that we've got this technology, and it really addresses what is a burning need for our users."

The first version of the new Microsoft anti-virus offering, which is expected to ship by the end of 2005, will be targeted at consumers, a move that risks alienating such traditional consumer security players as Symantec and McAfee--companies that have done an awful lot to make Microsoft's software more secure.

"Customers are concerned about the risk that malware poses to their personal information, and they're frustrated by its impact on the reliability and performance of their computers," Gates said.

A day after Gates made the announcement, Symantec's CEO John Thompson responded during his own RSA keynote, challenging Microsoft to a "horse race." "I could try to be like Bill [Gates] and show you product demos or talk about our product road map," Thompson told his audience, "but I thought our time together would be better spent if we took a more strategic view of what we do."

Thompson pointed out that Microsoft's plan addresses security on just one platform, while the Cupertino, CA-based security vendor offers cross-platform solutions that are better suited to modern heterogeneous enterprise environments.

Microsoft's new security solution will be included in Windows as a value-add item, Gates said, while a managed solution for businesses will be available as a paid service. Gates had no details on the pricing or delivery date of the enterprise product.

Gates's announcement of the upcoming version of Internet Explorer (IE 7.0) came as something of a surprise. A new version of IE was expected with the upcoming version of Windows, code-named Longhorn, due next year. But Microsoft now plans to release IE 7.0 earlier for users running Windows XP with Service Pack 2.

IE has long dominated the browser market, but the recent appearance of such rivals as Mozilla's Firefox has cut into IE's market share.

The new version of IE will have tougher security features, including anti-virus, anti-spyware, and anti-phishing technology, Gates said.