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….

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?


The most well-known is AVG (, 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 ( 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.

Microsoft Live Mesh

For the past few months, I’ve been using Microsoft’s Live Mesh system. It’s still in Beta, but is so genuinely useful that I’d find it hard to function without it.

Put simply – Mesh is a tool for synchronising data across multiple devices – using the Internet. Once registered, you get a ‘Mesh Desktop’ (which looks like a simple Windows Desktop – in your browser). Where it gets good is that you can now link folders on your laptop, home PC, or Windows phone to your mesh, and create synchronisation rules between them. If I save a Word document to a Mesh-enabled folder on my laptop – it gets automatically synchronised to the matching folder on my cloud-based Mesh desktop. If I’m not online, the synchronisation will be deferred until I am, and happens automatically in the background.

If I have a second PC – the synchronisation of that Word Document can go a stage further and deliver the document to a folder on that PC as well. Also automatically and without prompting. It doesn’t matter if both PC’s aren’t powered on or connected – the sync just waits until they are and then brings the machine up to date.

In practice, then… I Mesh-enable the key data folders on my main office PC (just a right-click option and the folder changes from yellow to blue to tell me its’ new status). I just work as usual with the folder– cutting, pasting, saving , deleting. Meanwhile – in the background, Mesh is synchronising all those changes up to the cloud, and lining up a queue of changes to deliver to my other machines when it can.

Next day, I have a client meeting in London and I know I won’t be needing any serious computer power, so I take my little MSI Wind (Windows 7 plus Mesh!) instead of a ‘proper’ laptop. I can open up the Netbook, double-click into my data folders – and there are the documents I was working on yesterday, In practice, I’ve never yet opened up that Netbook to find a file and been let down.

In short….


Almost as a sideline – Live Mesh also uses that secure data-connection between your PCs to provide remote-desktop access between them (but only within the secure little community of trusted machines that you have joined to your Mesh). I don’t need GoToMyPC or the other paid services, and it’s pretty firewall-friendly.

By the way – did I mention that you can run Mesh on OS X? Yep – there’s a Mac version.

This is one of those products that “Just works” – I can’t help but view Live Mesh as an example of the new post-Gates Microsoft – delivering really well rounded products that do something technically clever but looking terribly simple (as opposed to doing something technically clever and making sure your face is rubbed in that cleverness and complexity – I’m looking at you, SharePoint).

Bill Gates’ role as Chief Software Architect has been taken over by Ray Ozzie – (creator of Lotus Notes and Microsoft Groove). I’m sure it’s simplistic to say that Mesh and the like is all down to Ray Ozzie , but there does seem to be a real change to they way Microsoft is doing things, and that has coincided with his arrival. Microsoft is picking up on the change of style, and it’s showing.

Just as a final recommendation – I read first about Mesh via the blog of Microsoft’s Steve Clayton, by the way – a blog worth adding to your list. He also led me to the art of Hugh McLeod, an example of which I now use on the back of my business cards.