updated 10/6/2005 8:26:41 AM ET 2005-10-06T12:26:41

Microsoft Corp. is gearing up to release a subscription service that will make it easier for network technicians at big businesses to make sure computers don't fall prey to spyware or virus attacks.

The world's largest software maker said Thursday it will release a test version of the service by the end of the year.

Scott Stanzel, senior product manager in Microsoft's security technology unit, said Client Protection, as the company is calling it, will be similar to Windows OneCare, an all-in-one service the company is working on to bolster security for personal computers.

The Redmond, Wash., company has not said how much the service will cost or when it will be available in final form.  (MSNBC is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Mike Nash, a corporate vice president in charge of security efforts, were to discuss the new security push for businesses at a news conference Thursday in Munich.

Besides the centralized service, Microsoft said it's working on software to protect systems that run corporate e-mail messaging and collaboration technology.  A test version of the product, dubbed Antigen, is slated for release in the first half of next year.

Sybari Software Inc., one of several security companies Microsoft has acquired recently, was crucial to development of the Antigen product, Stanzel said.

Microsoft is adding an extra layer of protection to software it acquired when it bought Sybari.  Antigen will let computer servers run several engines scanning for security vulnerabilities at the same time, making it less likely that a virus will slip through.

Though there's no timeline for any product release, Stanzel said Microsoft also is working on identity and access management software, an effort that gained momentum last month with its recent acquisition of Alacris Inc.  "Businesses are realizing that password-only solutions are less and less effective," Stanzel said.

By offering business customers a broader array of security technology, Microsoft threatens to steal some business away from competitors like Symantec Corp. and Verisign Inc.

Yet it announced Thursday that it's creating what it calls a Secure IT Alliance involving a a number of its competitors. Stanzel said the idea is to "enable those companies to work closer with Microsoft — and each other — to more effectively and efficiently build and integrate their products together for the benefit of our common customers."

In the three years since Microsoft launched its Trustworthy Computing Initiative, the company has been forced to spend much of its time responding to security problems.

Mike Cherry, an industry analyst with Redmond-based Directions on Microsoft, said this new push to help businesses better protect their systems shows that the company has moved beyond that crisis-response mode.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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