Allegations of "predatory pricing" are beginning to swirl around Microsoft's emergence as a player in the security software space.
On the heels of the software giant's release of its Windows OneCare PC care bundle for consumers and a massive rebranding effort in the enterprise security sector, competitors are crying foul, charging that Microsoft is using its financial clout to kill competition and stifle innovation.
Alex Eckelberry, president of enterprise anti-virus vendor Sunbelt Software, went on the offensive on his company's blog, accusing Microsoft of "endangering the entire security ecosystem with ruthless, Standard Oil-style pricing."
Accusations of predatory pricing and unfair competitive practices could spur regulators in the United States and abroad to investigate Microsoft's tactics, and Eckelberry suggests that the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) take a serious look at the way Redmond has priced its products way below fair market value.
He charged that predatory pricing is being used as a competitive weapon to drive weaker competitors out of the market.
In an interview with eWEEK following the publication of his blog entry, Eckelberry said he was "astonished" to find that Microsoft's pricing for the Antigen e-mail security suite was more than 50 percent below rivals Symantec, Trend Micro and McAfee.
"They are low-balling the entire market," he said.
For Windows OneCare, a consumer application that includes anti-virus, anti-spyware, firewall and data backup features, Eckelberry said Microsoft was coming in between 29 percent and 44 percent lower than incumbents.
"We don't know what Microsoft plans to price Forefront Client Security, but one can assume from their pricing here, it's going to be ruthless. What should be disturbing about of this all is that we very well might see Microsoft owning a majority in the security space," Eckelberry said.
In a statement released to eWEEK, Microsoft took a small swipe at incumbent security vendors, insisting that its entry into the market is driven by the fact that a segment of its customers remain unprotected.
"[The] market is full of opportunity for all security vendors to play a role in customer security. Microsoft believes that customers want the freedom to choose the security solutions that work best for them and we're committed to seeing the sector stay competitive, with a large, thriving ecosystem of innovative companies," the company said.
David Moll, CEO of privately held anti-spyware vendor Webroot Software, threw his weight behind Eckelberry's concerns, arguing that Microsoft's pricing policy is "consistently out of line with the rest of the industry."
"It will be interesting to see the response from the regulatory authorities here and in Europe," Moll said in an interview with eWEEK.
"I expect this to be a bigger issue as Microsoft starts rolling out their product lines. We'll be evaluating our [legal] options here in the U.S.," he added.
John Pescatore, research director for Internet security at Gartner, says Eckelberry's numbers doesn't paint an accurate picture of the way anti-virus software is priced, particularly at the retail level.
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