Publicly, Microsoft continues to be cagey about packaging and pricing plans for its anti-spyware and anti-virus solutions. But privately, Microsoft has begun informing partners of its plans for a security subscription service code-named "A1," according to developers who requested anonymity.

Microsoft bought anti-virus vendor GeCAD in the summer of 2003, and anti-spyware maker Giant Company Software last month. As to how it plans to deliver these technologies, Microsoft has declined to give specifics. How/when/if it will repackage GeCAD's technology remains uncertain. Ditto for Giant's — although according to the Windows enthusiast site Neowin, Microsoft is expected to field its first anti-spyware beta based on Giant's technology this week. Neowin said the anti-spyware beta is code-named "Atlanta."

Microsoft officials have said the company is planning to make some form of its anti-spyware product available as a free tool. But that isn't the ultimate plan, partner sources said.

Microsoft is currently expecting to field its A1 anti-spyware/anti-virus bundle in the form of a renewable subscription service, the same way a number of other security vendors do, sources said. The service will allow users to keep current on the code needed to combat ever-changing viruses, worms, spybots and the like.

Some elements of A1 are likely to be built directly into future versions of Windows, according to partners. Specifically, some of the security-management functionality, such as the security-health-validation technology which Microsoft officials discussed last year, would likely be bundled into Windows itself, partners said.

The degree to which A1 will draw from learnings from Microsoft's "PC Satisfaction Trial," which the company conducted between 2003 and early 2004, is uncertain. PC Sat was designed to test Microsoft and third-party anti-virus, firewall, backup and PC-health-monitoring services. Sources said that Microsoft was testing whether these kinds of security services — when provided as hosted, managed services — would appeal to typically less-security-savvy small-business and consumer customers. Microsoft officials have declined to comment on the trial.

Microsoft officials also declined to comment on A1. Amy Carroll, director of Microsoft's security business and technology unit said: "We have not finalized the productization plans, and beyond that, we can't talk about the company's future anti-spyware/anti-virus solutions."

One partner source said he could see parallels between Microsoft's A1 and KraftFood's A1 steak sauce.

"A1 is a steak sauce that is a collection of different spices and seasoning such as malt vinegar, dates, mango chutney, and orange marmalade. This suite of seasonings is designed to hide flaws in the primary meat product, and is usually served separate from the steak," said the partner. "Interestingly enough, according to the (internal) A1 web site, the product has a 12-month shelf life, kind of like Microsoft's A1 will. After that, you'll have to sign up for a new one."