Microsoft could face an anti-trust investigation in Europe over its policy of pushing out its own Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) software via the Microsoft and Windows Update services, according to some security vendors.
Luis Corrons, technical director at Spain-based Panda Security, argued that the accusations could be compared to the row that erupted over Microsoft's bundling of Internet Explorer with Windows without giving users a choice of browser alternatives.
"It's pretty similar or even worse, because at least with browsers you can still have two or three running on a machine at once and nothing happens," he said.
"But because two anti-virus products don't usually work together, if you've already got one [MSE] installed you can't install a new security product unless you remove it."
Corrons believes that it would be fairer to offer a ballot screen-style choice of Microsoft or third-party free security products to the end user.
There was praise for Microsoft's aim of offering free protection for users who may not have invested in security software, but Corrons maintained that " the way Microsoft implemented it wasn't good".
Pedro Bustamante, senior research advisor at Panda Security, suggested that widespread use of MSE could even make it easier for hackers to infiltrate systems.
"If pushing MSE via Windows/Microsoft Update is very successful it will end up creating a monoculture of hundreds of millions of users having the same anti-virus product," he said.
"Right now hackers have to worry about bypassing multiple anti-virus products and protection layers every time they release a new piece of malware. Having to bypass only one product makes their life so much easier."
Bustamante also claimed that MSE's detection and prevention capabilities are below par compared to other products.
Security vendor Trend Micro went on record last week to voice concerns about the anti-competitive nature of the current MSE system, but there was no clarification or update to these comments at the time of writing.
Graham Titterington, an analyst with Ovum, argued that Redmond offering free AV software is "in the public good and hardly likely to damage Microsoft's competitors".
"It could be argued that Microsoft should be offering a choice, but any action is better than no action," he added. "I think this is unlikely to draw fire from anti-competition authorities."
V3.co.uk contacted Microsoft but was waiting to hear back at the time of writing.
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