Microsoft Security Essentials (beta)

This is set-it-and-forget-it software that handles the basic dangers, but doesn't try to compete with big-boy security suites

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Microsoft Security Essentials Beta
  • Microsoft Security Essentials Beta
  • Microsoft Security Essentials Beta
  • Microsoft Security Essentials Beta

Pros

  • Free, easy to use, none of the software bloat and slow performance that bedevilled OneCare

Cons

  • Still only in beta, yet to be put through its paces by antivirus labs

Bottom Line

Microsoft Security Essentials — even in beta form — appears to be a success. It's exceedingly simple to use, takes up few system resources and doesn't cost anything. Those who want fuller-featured security suites that do backups and other functions, or who want to be able to tweak their protection levels in more detail, will look elsewhere.

Would you buy this?

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How safe does it keep you?

Until Security Essentials is put through its paces by antivirus labs, there's no definitive way to know how it stacks up against other applications. However, it shares the same engine and signatures as other Microsoft anti-malware products, including OneCare, the enterprise-focused Forefront and the monthly Microsoft Malicious Software Removal Tool. Therefore, looking at how OneCare compares should give some kind of guidance.

In its earliest days, OneCare did not perform impressively in anti-malware tests, but over time that has changed. It now ranks near the top of security software, according to the independent AV-Comparatives website. The site regularly tests antivirus tools, and its latest tests of 16 applications, done in May, ranks OneCare as only one of three tools given the top Advanced+ designation (the other two were Kaspersky and ESET NOD32). It also tied for second place for its proactive detection of new malware and was the only software rated as giving very few false alarms.

The bottom line

In its reviewer's guide, the Microsoft says that "a surprising number of consumer PCs remain unprotected" against malware, although it offers no numbers. There are several reasons that consumers don't protect themselves, according to Microsoft. They are confused by the trial offers that come pre-installed on their PCs and by annual subscription fees. Heavy security suites slow down PCs and so people don't want to use them. Finally, some people simply aren't willing to pay for security.

Microsoft also notes that in "emerging markets," credit isn't always easy to come by, and so people can't pay for annual subscriptions using credit cards the way they do in countries such as the United States.

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