Microsoft has bought itself an early Christmas present: an anti-spyware company called Giant Software.

Microsoft’s corporate vice-president of security products Gordon Mangione said the company plans to use Giant's technology to give Windows customers a new tool to detect spyware running on Windows systems.

Mangione went on to state Microsoft plans to release a free evaluation version of the software within a month that will run on Windows 2000, XP and Server 2003 systems. Based on this, it will decide how to distribute the anti-spyware tool.

Decisions have yet to be made about whether the feature will be included in future versions of Windows operating systems and whether Microsoft will charge customers for using it.

Should it decide to build the tool into Windows Microsoft may find itself at odds with Sunbelt Software which peddles Giant’s anti-spyware and anti-spam products and is a co-owner of the anti-spyware code Microsoft has just bought.

Developing the existing code and creating new versions of it presents no problem, but Sunbelt’s claim on the code may preclude Microsoft integrating it into Windows. If Sunbelt’s assertion that it has exclusive rights to offer SDKs (software developer kits) is upheld, Microsoft may be stuck with AntiSpyware as an add-on.

Either way, Giant Software’s website confirms that Microsoft will take over support for its existing products.

"We wanted to give users control of their software and [let] them decide what is running on their machine. [Giant’s products are] a great fit with how we wanted to help customers protect their machines," Mangione said.

The purchase marks Microsoft's entry into the anti-spyware market following a year that saw an massive increase in online threats and scams involving spyware.

Surveys conducted by interested parties earlier this year found the average PC has 28 malware programs running without the owner’s knowledge and that 30 percent of our PCs have been compromised by a Trojan horse. Having compromised security such backdoor viruses monitor what you do on your PC and use personal and financial information they uncover for fraud and identity theft.