If Microsoft Corp. doesn't do more to stem Internet attacks, the company risks further alienating customers unhappy with the multitude of threats already facing its ubiquitous software.
Sell its own security products, on the other hand, and Microsoft faces a potential backlash from some of its allies — the companies that now provide an extra layer of security for its Windows operating system, Internet Explorer browser and other products.
With a powerhouse like Microsoft becoming a direct competitor, they could get squeezed out.
What a quandary.
Last week, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates confirmed plans to sell antivirus products to both consumers and big businesses by the end of the year. But the Redmond company is mum on cost and features.
Speaking at a security conference, Gates also said the company would give consumers a free tool for combating spyware, a pesky and growing threat that can monitor users' activities, hinder computer performance and create other hassles. Microsoft also will sell a more sophisticated antispyware product to businesses.
Executives in the security industry say they believe Microsoft's promise to continue sharing security information and working with other security companies even after it becomes a direct competitor.
Analyst Gregg Moskowitz with Susquehanna Financial Group said both sides have an incentive to "continue to play nice with each other."
The security companies are dependent on Microsoft to make sure their defenses run smoothly, while Microsoft cannot risk having competing security products break down and wreak more