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Continuing its recent spate of security moves, Microsoft Corp. on Thursday said it plans to release a virus detection and removal tool on Jan. 11. The antivirus fighter will be updated on the second Tuesday of every month as part of the company’s scheduled software patching cycle.

Meanwhile, exactly three weeks after acquiring anti-spyware startup Giant Company, Redmond released the first public beta as a free Windows download through July 31.

Redmond also plans to release a virus detection and removal tool on Jan. 11, which will be updated on the second Tuesday of every month as part of the company’s scheduled software patching cycle.

As previously reported, the spyware zapper is an exact replica of the Giant Company application acquired late last year.

Microsoft has retained all of the key Giant AntiSpyware features, including RealTime Detection, AutoUpdater, Spyware Scan and the widely hailed SpyNet Community network, which provides an early-warning mechanism.

Microsoft officials declined to discuss what happens after the beta expires in July, but analysts expect the company to start charging for definition updates once the spyware detection and removal tool goes gold.

Amy Carroll, director of product management in Microsoft’s security business technology unit, declined to discuss plans for a paid version. “We’re focused on getting an ultimate solution out there, but we don’t know yet how it will be productized,” she told on Thursday.

“There may be a second or even a third beta in the coming months. We’re always working with our customers and partners to figure out how to improve our products,” Carroll added.

The addition of a worm zapper to the monthly Patch Day schedule is a change from the previous policy of releasing individual removal tools after a major virus outbreak.

Using expertise and technology acquired from anti-virus vendor GeCAD, Microsoft’s malicious software removal tools will consolidate previously released tools for the Blaster, MyDoom and Download.Ject attacks.

Once a month, Microsoft will use the Windows Update and Automatic Update mechanisms to roll out “high priority” updates.

The release of a virus zapper and anti-spyware application is seen as the first step in Microsoft’s long-term plan to launch a security subscription service, code-named A1.

On Thursday, Microsoft talked up the SpyNet Anti-Spyware Community element of the beta application, which is available for download here, encouraging users to play a key role in helping to find and report spyware on an ongoing basis.

SpyNet is a network of computer users who agree to forward information about spyware to help create and update spyware detection signatures. When the software’s Security Agents are breached by unknown programs, the SpyNet servers are immediately updated to report the activity and check whether it is part of a spyware outbreak.

Gene Munster, senior analyst at Piper Jaffray & Co., said he thinks the SpyNet community element will give Microsoft a key advantage over competitors. “It provides a great way for Microsoft to test the distributed capabilities for the planned anti-virus product,” he said.

Gartner security analyst John Pescatore said he expects Microsoft to compete aggressively on pricing with entrenched anti-spyware/anti-virus vendors such as Computer Associates, Symantec and McAfee.

“For the consumer market, Microsoft will definitely come out at a lower price point, … we think somewhere around 20 percent lower than competitors,” Pescatore said in an interview with

Pescatore said he thinks Microsoft initially will target consumers and the small business market. “Larger enterprises will not rush to switch to Microsoft for security, so I don’t think a first offering will have all the enterprise capabilities. In late 2006, they will have a better chance of embedding some of the enterprise functionalities,” he said.

“The consumer market is huge, and Microsoft will have to compete, because of all the antitrust ramifications. They can’t be embedding things into Windows, and they certainly can’t give it away for free. So, I definitely expect to see a price war,” Pescatore said.

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