Many free security utilities are restricted to personal or noncommercial use. Microsoft bucks that trend by giving license to home-based enterprises.
Working in the education sector for a number of years, I got very adept at running our department on a pretty lean IT budget. I used free and open-source software wherever I could in an effort to economize. When I couldn't find a free substitute for a particular application, I always paused to ask myself "Is this a program we really need?" One class of software that always passed the necessity test was security utilities. It's not wise to run a network of Windows machines without antivirus protection and malware scanners in place, that's for certain. We always ended up licensing our AV software, because I never found a free package that I felt confident running.
That's not to say there aren't a ton of free security products available. A quick Web search is all it takes to prove that there are options. Few of those products that are marketed as free downloads are authorized for use in businesses or organizations, however. If you read the terms and conditions, many of the most notable free security applications are licensed only for personal or noncommercial use.
Microsoft is setting a fresh standard with its new product, Microsoft Security Essentials. While the free antivirus and malware utility is specifically licensed for use at home, the company makes an allowance for commercial use of the software. From the Security Essentials license agreement:
INSTALLATION AND USE RIGHTS. Use. You may install and use any number of copies of the software on your devices in your household for use by people who reside there or for use in your home-based small business.
Why should this development matter to support pros? Why should you recommend Microsoft's free product over any of the others? It can tempting to recommend free security software to thrifty clients, but if their machines are used for any business purposes at all then they may not be eligible to use most other free products. In any instance where you recommend or install software outside of its license, you open your clients and yourself to legal liability. IT professionals should never knowingly put their clients at risk. By steering them toward Microsoft Security Essentials, you can help the home businesspeople you support protect their machines and save money, all without violating the legal rights of another company.