Microsoft Anti-Virus arrives

Yesterday, Microsoft released their own Anti-Virus product – ‘Microsoft Security Essentials’.

MSE is a no-frills anti-virus program, that works on Windows XP, Vista and Win7 – and it’s free (the only requirement is that you are running a ‘genuine’ copy of Windows). You can download it from….

www.microsoft.com/security_essentials

Although it’s still quite new – tests seem to indicate it is at least as good at detecting and clearing viruses as the other commercial products on the market, and particular praise has been made of the unobtrusive way it goes about its business. It doesn’t slow your PC down, and it doesn’t bombard you with pop-ups telling you how clever it is. There are no adverts, no upgrade offers, just a small icon in the system tray.

The software updates itself daily via ‘Microsoft Update’, and again does so entirely automatically and invisibly. It’s got a very simple look & feel (see picture above) with a minimal number of configuration settings.

Microsoft do stress that you shouldn’t have more than ONE of any type of security software on a PC, as they interfere with each other (that’s not just true of Microsoft’s product – it’s good practice to avoid this anyway, as I mentioned in an earlier post).

MSE incorporates an enhanced version of the Windows Defender anti-spyware product – so if you have that installed, the MSE installer will automatically disable that program and take over all spyware protection duties.

Although it may seem that Microsoft are newbies in this field, they have in fact been developing and supplying enterprise security products for some time – Forefront Server being their main network firewall/security product. MSE uses the same underlying technology and virus database as Forefront Server. Microsoft have also been selling a paid-for security system called ‘OneCare’ (an unfortunate name if spoken with certain accents) which they have now closed down in favor of MSE.

    What Won’t it do?

It is a basic anti-virus and anti-spyware product for a single PC – it doesn’t have the central administration tools that are beloved of IT managers in larger organisations. It also isn’t a firewall – you still need one of those.

It doesn’t have web browser security functions – some products add special toolbars into your Web Browser to warn you about dodgy sites.

    Why are Microsoft doing this?

There are an awful lot of PC’s out there with incomplete anti-virus coverage – and that hits everyone – just like incomplete vaccination coverage can cause problems in a population. I’m also sure that Microsoft are not unaware of the commercial benefits if Windows reputation for being virus-prone diminishes as a result.

– Anti-virus Software is often provided on new PCs, but it is usually a trial version that expires after a few months and requires activation (and a credit card number) to keep going after the initial trial. Lots of people never quite get around to sorting that out.

– Many people are dissuaded from installing anti-virus software because of bad experiences with software hitting PC performance – and there were some shocking examples around.

– Most software now requires annual renewal (at a cost) and it’s an easy cost to postpone in difficult times – particularly if a few months go by without updates and no problems crop up.

    Are there other free alternatives?

Yes.

The most well-known is AVG (http://free.avg.com), which has a solid reputation. The free version, however, is not licenced for use in business environments, and it does do quite a lot of advertising within the software – trying to pursuade you to upgrade to the ‘Professional’ version. I have this software on my home PC’s.

I have also used Avira (www.free-av.com) which again works well. This one, however, became rather too annoying with its pop-up advertising.

    Should you use it?

It is very important that your PCs are protected – if you are currently not keeping your office machines updated because of cost or performance reasons, then this could be the answer. A properly updated no-frills option is better than an out of date version of one of the fancier products.

If you currently have one of the commercial products (Norton, McAfee, etc), then you should decide if the more advanced features of these products (such as centralised administration/reporting and updates) in fact mean that they remain the best option for you.

Its also worth reiterating – keep your PCs updated with the latest patches – many virusses rely on exploiting flaws in Windows that have long since been fixed by Microsoft, but which many people haven’t installed. Prevention is better than cure.

    What are YOU doing, Charles?

I had been using Norton Anti-Virus 2009 on my work machines (Norton went through a bad patch where their products were bloated and slow, but the 2009 version was much better). It didn’t support Windows 7, however, and I was considering which product to go with on my re-built Windows7 64-bit laptop – I was going with Norton 2010, but free is free, so I have now installed MSE, and it’s working very well.