Microsoft Security Essentials: Free, so what's the catch?

A business version is looming, so our intrepid blogger tests Redmond's latest antivirus app for Windows

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I ran a scan and, with fingers crossed, got a big green checkmark to indicate that I'm still safe. If I turned off the scan, the checkmark would change to orange; if a threat were detected, I'd see a big red X. It doesn't get any easier than that for notification. There are four tabs that will make sense to any typical user: Home (where you can run you scan and see your results), Update (to grab an update manually, although it updates itself several times a day), History (to show you the harmful items that have been discovered and what action was taken), and Settings (for a variety of options that resemble Windows Defender settings).

How does MSE compare to the other antivirus products?
So here's a no-cost product that works on Windows XP SP2 and later, Vista, and Windows 7. It provides real-time protection against spyware, viruses, worms, Trojans, and other malicious software. There has to be a catch somewhere: Will it eat system resources to do its job? Will it perform poorly when compared to other, more experienced, antivirus products on the market? Will it give me false positives? I had lots of questions to resolve.

For the answers, I went to the AV-Test.org site, an independent provider of test scenarios that analyze effectiveness, behavior, and speed of IT security products, to see what it had to say about MSE. The report determined the following degree of protection on the tool's 6-point scale:

  • Protection: 4.0
  • Repair: 4.5
  • Usability: 5.5

AV-Test.org detected no false positives, indicated that MSE didn't seem to hurt the performance of the systems tested, noted that MSE scored well within the industry averages across the board, and reported that MSE supposedly detected 98.4 percent of the half-million viruses, worms, and Trojans in the AV-Test.org database, along with all its known rootkits.

My eyes began to scan the chart of other products that were certified (or failed to qualify for certification) with Windows 7 by AV-Test.org, and I was shocked by what I saw. Norman Security Suite 8.0 pulled just a 2.0 for Protection and Trend Micro Internet Security Pro 2010 got only a 2.5. Neither was certified by AV-Test.org. McAfee Internet Security 2010 got a 2.0 on the Repair side and wasn't certified. Some of the more outstanding winners, so to speak, were AVG Internet Security 9.0 (scores: 5.5, 4.0, 5.0), F-Secure Internet Security 2010 (5.0, 5.0, 5.5), Kaspersky Internet Security 2010 (5.0, 5.5, 5.5), Panda Internet Security 2010 (5.5, 5.5, 5.0), and Symantec Norton Internet Security 2010 (5.5, 5.0, 5.5).

The bottom line: Microsoft Security Essentials has me protected. I look forward to version 2.0 going live and the small-business offering being made public in the very near future (as sources have indicated).

What do you think? Does MSE have a shot of being your new go-to app for antivirus protection or will you stick with old standbys that have kept you safe all along?

This article, "Microsoft Security Essentials: Free, so what's the catch?," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of J. Peter Bruzzese's Enterprise Windows blog and follow the latest developments in security and Windows at InfoWorld.com.

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