Code-named 'Morro' the new Microsoft product will focus on protection from malware, including viruses, spyware, rootkits and trojans. It will not include utility function such as the 'tune up' capability of Windows Live OneCare.
But that doesn't mean it will be a stripped down version of Windows Live OneCare. According to Amy Barzdukas, Microsoft's senior director of product management, Morro will be a new product with a smaller footprint and using fewer resources, making it suitable for use on less powerful machines and where limited network bandwidth is available.
A common complaint about recent security packages is the load they place on the computer. It is not unknown for owners of older computers to complain that there isn't enough grunt left to run real applications once some security suites are loaded.
To be offered as a download for XP, Vista and Windows 7, Morro is slated to arrive some time in the second half of 2009.
The rationale for providing a free security product is that even in developed markets around 60 percent of consumers don't have up to date security software on their PCs, and the proportion is even higher in developing markets.
What about Forefront, and security products from other vendors? Please read on.
"Free trials can confuse consumers as to whether or not their PC is secure, and procrastination when it comes to renewing a paid service can mean that consumers aren’t getting the most up-to-date protection," said Barzdukas.
Microsoft isn't the first company to offer free anti-malware software. Some other security vendors make their products available to individual, non-commercial users at no charge.
Examples include AVG (though AVG Free does not protect against rootkits or web exploits), PC Tools (PC Tools AntiVirus Free and Spyware Doctor Starter Edition are separate products) and Avast.
Retail sales of Windows Live OneCare will end on 30 June 2009, but direct sales won't be phased out until Morro ships. Updates will continue as long as any customers have a current subscription to the service.
Microsoft's Forefront security products for enterprise customers will continue to be developed.
"Providing access to a trusted solution at no charge is the right thing to do to help protect our customers," said Barzdukas.
No doubt the cynical will suggest that if Windows was more secure in the first place, products such as Morro or Forefront wouldn't be needed.
Others will say that Windows' huge marketshare makes it a more lucrative target for malware writers, and that other platforms are not inherently more secure.