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Microsoft launched its consumer desktop security service as expected May 30, with longtime anti-virus and intrusion detection specialist McAfee introducing a rival offering in hopes of blocking the software giant’s bid to help lock down home PCs.

Dubbed officially as Windows Live OneCare, the Microsoft managed security service aims to help users strike back at the landslide of threats assailing PCs running on the company’s Windows operating system.

Sold via home entertainment chain Best Buy and a handful of other major retailers, OneCare will market for an annual subscription fee of $49.95 for use on up to three PCs.

As expected, the final version of the OneCare service boasts anti-virus and firewall protection, along with automatic PC security updates, and anti-spyware tools built around the same technology used in Microsoft’s stand-alone Windows Defender product line.

Microsoft is promising subscribers to OneCare that they will also receive automated PC “tune-ups” on a regular basis to help keep their machines running smoothly, along with data backup capabilities and free access to customer service representatives.

Since late November 2005, Microsoft has been providing the service to what it identified as hundreds of thousands of beta testers around the globe.

The launch of the service is only the latest step by Microsoft to rapidly expand its IT security presence in both the consumer and enterprise markets.

With the most significant aspect of that effort still to come in the form of the security tools being promised in its next generation operating system, known as Vista, the Redmond, Wash.-based firm has already launched consumer products such as Windows Defender for consumers, and continues to build out its business technologies via deals such as its recent acquisition of virtual private networking software makers Whale Communications.

For its part Vista will also offer features aimed at fighting viruses, spyware and other threats. The product is slated to arrive sometime during the first half of 2007.

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Microsoft executives said that OneCare will specifically address many of the security headaches commonly attributed to Windows PCs in hopes of making online threats less of a hassle to home users.

“Windows Live OneCare delivers what millions of consumers have been asking for: one source for top-to-bottom maintenance, support and performance optimization tools plus increased protection that takes the worry out of PC care,” Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates said in a statement.

“This ‘just take care of it’ experience enables customers to focus on what they really care about, which is to be able to sit down at their PCs and enjoy their digital lifestyles.”

As Microsoft has moved to deepen its footprint in the sector, those companies already making a living off of the considerable Windows security aftermarket, which analysts at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner have estimated at $3.6 billion in annual revenues, have jumped to counter the giant firm’s moves.

By no coincidence, No. 2 security software maker McAfee detailed its own plans to launch a managed PC defense service on the same day OneCare was introduced, labeled Falcon, and anti-malware market leader Symantec has already detailed plans to introduce a similar consumer service dubbed Genesis by fall of 2006.

Featuring many of the same technologies available in McAfee’s Internet Security Suite 2006, the company is promising to deliver its latest anti-virus and anti-spyware tools, along with services the company described as providing a proactive “threat watch” for consumer PC users.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based firm said that Flacon, which has reportedly been in “stealth development” for over one year, will take wing sometime before the end of this summer.

In addition to touting its long-running expertise in the security segment, McAfee also pointed out that it is no stranger to the so-called software as a service business made famous by business applications vendor, having offered remote managed subscription security tools since as far back as 1999.

Microsoft jumped into the sector itself in late 2005, introducing a rival service to

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