Chinese online security service provider Qihoo 360 formally released the final version of its latest free anti-virus software recently. Microsoft has also launched its anti-virus software for free, prompting some industry insiders to say the era of free anti-virus service has come.
From 400 to 50 yuan in yearly fees, the competition among online security service providers for a larger market share has never stopped during the past several years. Following Microsoft's move into the global market, domestic provider Qihoo 360 recently announced its free edition. CEO of Qihoo 360 Qi Xiang Dong says:
"Users can download the software for free from 360.cn. There are no hidden charges at all on this edition of the software. There is no limit on the user's location, or duration of use. It's ultimately free once you start to use it."
So is this free anti-virus software a landmark representing a new era when all anti-virus software will be free? Will other providers follow this trend? Cao Lingxiang is a manager from the Jiang Min Technology Company.
"The service we are promoting is like this: you can use the same copy of the software on three different computers and it's for free for the first three years. The price is 298 yuan each. So far we don't plan to offer the software totally free, because we need to keep the revenue coming in."
Kaspersky Technology Company is an anti-virus software provider based in Beijing. Manager Pan Yan says they also have no plans to offer free editions so far.
"There are multiple channels for customers to buy Kaspersky software. You can go to PC stores or order it online. The 2010 edition is 158 yuan for three years."
But for many PC owners, like Li Bingying, getting something for free is definitely an attraction.
"I used to buy other anti-virus software, but after using it for a period of time it expired, and I had to buy something new. Now at least we can use the official edition of the anti-virus software for free. Qihoo 360's security was pretty good and it can repair system loopholes sometimes, so I trust this brand and now use its anti-virus edition. But there are also some friends working in the IT field who warned us not to use the free edition now, since it has just entered the market."
But Qihoo 360 says they tested this edition for more than one year, starting in July 2008. Professionals say the anti-virus market needs more than one marketing module, and users benefit from more choices. Huang Chengqing is vice president of the Internet Society of China.
"Netizens can feel free to choose free or non-free software brands, and if the brand doesn't fit in, it will lose the competition. It's good to let the market decide."
Industry insiders say free anti-virus software will force providers to reform their business strategies, which is a big challenge for many online security service providers. Before long, there may be few competitors that can provide free services like Qihoo 360's.