BRUSSELS -- Leading computer security firm Symantec Wednesday warned that users of Microsoft's new 'Vista' operating system could find their options for running anti-virus style software seriously reduced.
Vista is still in the final stages of its development phase and the system is not due to go on sale until the beginning of 2007. But Symantec's communications director Chris Paden said that in its current form the new Microsoft operating system (OS) would "reduce consumer choice" when it came to computer security.
The problem, Paden explained, was that Vista currently contains a built-in Microsoft 'security centre' that includes applications such as anti-virus software, firewalls, and anti-spyware packages.
Security Centers have existed in previous Microsoft systems - there is one in the popular Windows XP for example - but until now it has always been possible to replace the Microsoft package with security software made by another company.
With the current version of Vista this will not be possible, Paden said. It will be possible to install other security packages but not remove the Microsoft center. "It would be like trying to drive a car with two dashboards. This is going to cause a great deal of consumer confusion," Paden complained.
As the world leader in security software, Symantec clearly has a vested interest in ensuring that it is possible to install non-Microsoft security packages in Vista.
But the Symantec spokesman insisted that his complaints were not solely motivated by self interest. He said that Microsoft should try to promote the development of new and better software by allowing other companies' products to work easily with Vista.
"If they really wanted to promote innovation, they would work with vendors," he said.
He accused Microsoft of "digging their heels in" and refusing to listen to Symantec's request for Microsoft to make it possible to remove the built-in security center from the new operating system.
He also warned that Vista users could face serious computer security problems as the new operating system had not been designed to take into account the latest generation of security threats. "It has been built for a threat landscape which existed three or four years go," he said.
The European Commission, which in March 2004 slapped a record fine of 497 million ($631 million) on Microsoft for abusing its dominant market position, has already warned the software giant that in its current form Vista risks falling foul of EU competition rules.
In March this year EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said that the new operating system could break competition law, notably because of its security components.
Since then, Microsoft and the Commission have been in discussions over the issue.