Microsoft Corp. Wednesday started giving computer users the chance to test its new security service as the world's largest software maker took its biggest step yet into the lucrative consumer security market.
The company is making its Windows OneCare Live service available for free in a "beta," or test version, to help it work out any potential problems before the product's likely introduction next year. (MSNBC is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)
The service, which offers anti-virus, firewall, backup and recovery, as well as personal computer maintenance, will eventually be available for a subscription fee, said Microsoft spokeswoman Samantha McManus. The company has not yet determined how much it will charge.
"This is the first major step for Microsoft into the consumer security market," McManus said, noting about 15,000 customers have been taking part in a limited test since June.
The security service is part of the company's Windows Live strategy announced on Nov. 1 aimed at competing with challengers such as Google , Yahoo and Salesforce.com , which have used the Web to quickly and easily deliver new products and services to customers.
Windows Live is a free Web-based service in which individual users can sign up for a "live" home page that pulls in constantly updating content from a range of information sources including Web searches, e-mail, syndicated headlines from other sites and photos and audio from across the Web.
With the service, the Redmond, Washington-based company also plans to wade into the fast-growing consumer security market dominated by companies like Symantec Corp. and McAfee Inc.
Microsoft has already introduced its Windows Live Safety Center service allowing consumers to go to a Web site to have their computers scanned for viruses and cleaned of them, McManus said.
The Windows Live Safety Center service is a one-time fix requiring consumers to go back to the Web site while OneCare Live provides constant and more comprehensive protection against viruses and other security threats.
She also said the aim of OneCare Live was not to take customers from companies such as Symantec and McAfee but rather to win over the estimated 70 percent of consumers who do not have anti-virus software or do not keep it updated.
Still, the company said running more than one anti-virus software program at a time on a personal computer would end up bogging down any protection and actually leave computers less secure. This means customers might have to choose between Microsoft and another vendor.
"They end up getting in each other's way and you end up having less," McManus said. "The goal with OneCare is you probably won't need new offerings."