Microsoft will ship the next major release of its Windows operating system with built-in anti-virus (AV) software, a move that is garnering mixed reactions from the security community.

Windows 8, expected to be released during the third quarter of 2012, will come bundled with functionality from Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE), a program that is currently offered as a separate, free online download to protect against viruses, spyware and other malicious software. Microsoft on Tuesday released a preview of the new operating system (OS) to developers during its BUILD conference in Anaheim, Calif.

“We have made many investments in security in Windows 8, building upon the work done to improve security in Windows 7,” a Microsoft spokeswoman said in a statement sent to SCMagazineUS.com on Wednesday. “All of these investments give us great confidence that Windows 8 will be the most secure operating system we’ve produced.”

The move to include AV in Windows 8 is a positive step for security, but will undoubtedly be a “regulatory hot button” issue, Neil MacDonald, a Gartner vice president and research fellow, who attended the BUILD conference, told SCMagazineUS.com on Wednesday.

“It tends to distort market competition when you include something [like AV] out of the box,” MacDonald said.

Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at AV firm Sophos, in a blog post Wednesday, acknowledged that the change could improve security, especially since so many home computers are poorly protected.

Cybercriminals, however, will likely begin crafting their malware to evade Microsoft’s scanner, he said. Also, the announcement is sure to be met with criticism from those in the AV market.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the legal eagles at rival security firms accused Microsoft of anti-competitive practices,” he said.

Microsoft has faced anti-trust issues in the past. Following a lengthy dispute, the Redmond, Wash.-based computing giant was forced to offer Windows users in Europe the option to choose an alternative web browser beyond Internet Explorer, which had been bundled in with the OS.

Meanwhile, Windows 8 will also include several other security enhancements, including “engineering system changes” to find and protect against system flaws, Microsoft said. Additionally, the platform will include a capability known as Secured Boot to help protect against malware-infected USB drives and other threats.

“What they continue to do is raise the bar in terms of baked-in security protections for the OS,” MacDonald said.