Windows Live OneCare is under attack from the media, and unfortunately the attacks are well-founded and worrisome.

Last month a terrible, inexcusable bug was discovered in the new version 1.5 of OneCare that could delete or quarantine Outlook .PST files. It is reportedly fixed now. Like many bugs, it only affected a small number of people. The worrisome part was not the bug itself but the inadequate response from the OneCare team, which should have reacted as if its lives and jobs were at stake. Instead, uninformed tech support reps made stupid comments, no official statement was made about a fix, and the solution was long in coming – so long that the press began to pick up on it.

Then an independent lab concluded that OneCare did a terrible job of stopping viruses. The press coverage began growing. The OneCare team responded to the criticism a couple of days ago, but the tone was muted and the press ignored the response.

Now a Microsoft executive has given an interview which further undermines confidence in the product. Microsoft’s European business security product manager said that “bits and pieces are missing” from OneCare. He said that OneCare shouldn’t have been rolled out when it was. He says (with no particular confidence) that the problems — including basic incompatibilities with other Microsoft products — “are being fixed”.

Influential web sites have been having a field day writing stories about OneCare’s weaknesses and this interview will escalate the rhetoric. ZDNet’s article says “all the signs are that OneCare is a project in massive internal disarray; misbegotten, mismanaged and mismarketed,” and concludes:

“Microsoft must withdraw the software immediately. It is poisoning any message the company has about being more responsible about security, listening to customers and being a trustworthy partner. It stands as evidence of incompetence and inability to innovate, of a cynical attitude to the market, of all the attributes Microsoft’s competition — and, increasingly, its customers — associate with the brand.”

I chose OneCare for myself and many of my clients and friends because it is blessedly light on system resources, it does important chores in addition to antivirus and spyware protection (backup, system updates, hard drive defrag), it is unobtrusive and easy to understand, and its competitors are seriously flawed.

I also chose it because I thought it was safe and effective. If that turns out not to be true, we have a serious problem.

If OneCare is going to survive, Microsoft needs to defend its product clearly and vigorously. It needs to announce a crash effort to fix the problems, improve the security, and rebuild OneCare’s reputation. Soon.

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