Microsoft is readying a new consumer security product that offers virus and spyware protection, a firewall and several tune-up tools for Windows PCs. The move will pit the software giant squarely against traditional security software vendors.

The product, dubbed Windows OneCare, will be tested internally at Microsoft starting this week. A public test, or beta, version is scheduled to be available by the end of the year. The final product will be offered as a subscription service.

OneCare marks Microsoft's long-anticipated entry into the antivirus space, until now the domain of specialised vendors such as Symantec, McAfee and Trend Micro. Microsoft announced its intent to offer antivirus products two years ago when it bought Romanian antivirus software developer GeCAD Software.

But OneCare will do more than guard against viruses and worms. The product will also include spyware protection and a new firewall that scans incoming and outgoing traffic. The firewall already included in Windows scans only incoming traffic.

Microsoft acquired anti-spyware technology late last year from Giant Company Software. A beta of a stand-alone anti-spyware product has been available since January. That technology will be part of OneCare.

Additionally, OneCare will offer improved backup and restore capabilities and easy access to PC maintenance tools already in Windows for file repair, hard drive clean up, and hard drive defragmentation, Microsoft says.

"The idea is to bring it all together for the customer," says Dennis Bonsall, a group product manager at Microsoft.

OneCare is targeted at consumers, not businesses. Microsoft is especially looking to target the 70 percent of consumer PC users who don't have protection because current offerings are too complex or take too much time to manage, Bonsall says.

However, some people might think that Microsoft is not the right company to protect Windows because it created the product that is being attacked.

Baker believes consumers will trust Microsoft to protect their PCs. "The mindset among consumers is going to be: 'These are the guys who designed the operating system, so they should know how to protect it well.' The fact that it is coming from Microsoft will play well among consumers," Baker says.

Microsoft says it is too early to talk about pricing for OneCare or when the final version of the product will be generally available.