Half a year ago, Microsoft announced that they would discontinue Windows Live One Care and instead would offer a free alternative with the code name Morro. Microsoft Security Essentials is the new name and the beta is now available. You can't download it anymore through Microsoft, but it is still available at Softpedia.
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Windows Live One Care ^
One Care was not really a success. Its market share was only 2%, which is a little embarrassing for a giant like Microsoft. I suppose some security software vendors heaved a sigh of relief when they realized that OneCare was no real competitor for their antivirus tools. I guess the trembling starts again now. It is one thing if small companies such as AVG or Avira offer a free anti-malware tool, but a completely different matter if the Windows maker himself comes out with a free tool. Moreover, the free version will Microsoft help to improve the detection rate of the Forefront products
Microsoft Security Essentials features ^
On the other hand, can a 4.7 MB download (3.7 MB for x64) really be a serious threat? I think it can. First of all, Security Essentials indeed has all of the essential features that an antivirus software requires. It supports real-time scans, automatic signature updates, full and partial scans, and scheduled scans. In addition, it can quarantine or remove malware based on the severity level and it allows you to exclude folders, file types, and processes. Other free antivirus tools have more to offer, but, in my view, most of their features are superfluous anyway. Actually, reliable on-access scanning is the only feature that really matters.
Microsoft Security Essentials detection rate ^
However, the features of the scan engine and the user interface are not decisive for an antivirus product. The most difficult part certainly is to deliver the virus & spyware definitions against the latest threats before the competitors do. Virus and rootkit analysis is a tough business and you need an armada of experts for it. When Microsoft entered the antimalware business, the detection performance of their scan engines was lousy. But they improved steadily and, according to AV Comparatives, Microsoft's detection rate is now second only to AVIRA and the false positive rate is the lowest of all 16 tested antimalware products. (Why doesn't UAC have a comparably low false-positive rate?) First tests with Microsoft Security Essentials have already shown that it also performs quite well. Of course, it was only a matter of time until Redmond caught up with the specialists in this field. There is no doubt that Microsoft has the resources to build up a mighty strike force against Internet terrorism.
Mandatory Microsoft SpyNet membership ^
I have only one complaint about Security Essentials. This is the mandatory membership in Microsoft SpyNet. You can chose between basic and advanced membership. Basic membership means that Security Essentials will send information about software it detects to Microsoft. This can be where the software came from, the actions that were applied, and if they were successful or not. Advanced membership will send additional information such as the location of the software, file names, how the software operates, and how it impacted your computer.
What many will find disturbing is this sentence that applies to both options:
In some instances, personal information might unintentionally be sent to Microsoft; however, Microsoft will not use this information to identify you, or to contact you.
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I am quite sure that this obligatory "membership" will be the main obstacle for Security Essentials to gain acceptance in this market that has so many competitors. Of course, the information that Microsoft acquires in this way is very helpful for the creation of better malware signatures. Unfortunately, I suppose that there are not many out there who like their personal information to be sent to people they have never met, be it intentionally or unintentionally. The solution to this problem would be to display information before it is sent and then let the user decide from case to case whether it should be sent to Microsoft or not. At least Microsoft is fair enough to describe Security Essentials' behavior in detail. So it is up to you if you install the free software or not. I did.