Microsoft is getting serious about global security, offering a free anti-malware package code-named Morro that has been specially designed for low cost PCs in developing nations.

The software will be available in the second half of 2009 and will provide 'comprehensive protection' from 'the majority of online threats', including viruses, spyware, rootkits and trojans.

Morro is based on - and will replace - the current Windows Live OneCare subscription service, although it has been architected to use fewer computing resources, making it ideal for low-bandwidth scenarios or less powerful PCs.

Also destined for the chop is Equipt, Microsoft's shortlived excursion into consumer software-as-a-service, offering cloud storage of files, updates to Microsoft Office packages and Windows Live OneCare, for an annual cost of £59. Microsoft Equipt launched just one month ago.

Microsoft vs malware

Amy Barzdukas, Senior Director at Microsoft, said: "This new, no-cost offering will give us the ability to protect an even greater number of consumers, especially in markets where the growth of new PC purchases is outpaced only by the growth of malware."

Morro will deliver the same core protection against malware as Microsoft's enterprise solutions, but without the additional non-security features found in many consumer security suites, which probably means password managers, identity protection software and online secure storage.

"By offering basic protection at no charge to the consumer, Microsoft is promoting a safer environment for PCs, service providers and e-commerce itself, since it is through unprotected PCs that the worst threats are introduced to the system as a whole," said Roger Kay, Founder of Endpoint Technologies Associates.

Cross-platform support

Morro will be available as a stand-alone download for Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7. Windows Live OneCare will continue to be sold until June 30, 2009, and all existing subscriptions to it will be honoured.

Microsoft will end retail sales of Equipt within the next 90 days and halt subscription services in the first half of 2009. The company says that customers who subscribed to this service continue 'to get value from it' until the end of their subscription period - October 2009 - and will provide detailed information about 'customer options' early next year.

If those 'options' are the same as US users of Equipt received, UK purchasers can expect a free license key to Microsoft Office Home and Student (worth about £70) and possibly even a pro-rated refund, which isn't a bad deal.

If you want to take the risk, PC World is still selling Equipt as of this post.