Answers to more of your Microsoft Security Essentials questions
The state of computing security in Windows is anything but clear for a lot of home users. So I guess I should not have have been surprised that one column and blog posts at the start and end of this month did not suffice to explain Microsoft's new, free Microsoft Security Essentials program.
Read on for answers to some of the questions I've received most often about "MSE," a free download for Windows XP, Vista and 7:
I can't get MSE to install. What should I do next?
Try booting the computer into Safe Mode: Hold down F8 as the machine starts up to run Windows in a stripped-down configuration, then give MSE's setup routine another try. If that doesn't work, I'd have to think your PC has some preexisting condition -- maybe a virus, maybe some other form of "bit rot" that's corrupted the system -- and in that case it's time to look at reinstalling Windows. (Sorry. This kind of thing just seems to happen in Windows sometimes.)
Do I have to remove my existing anti-virus program?
It's possible to install MSE on top of another program, contrary to Microsoft's advice. I have also installed other anti-virus tools on top of MSE. But that's a bad idea overall: At best, you're going to experience twice the slowdown that any one anti-virus tool can inflict; at worst, you'll render the computer unbootable.
Why didn't you compare MSE to [my favorite anti-virus tool]?
I only had so much time and so many computers. But I can assure you that I haven't seen much difference in the accuracy of anti-virus programs in all the other reviews I've done. (One post-review anecdote in MSE's favor: It correctly identified a new trojan disguised as a Facebook password-reset utility this morning after downloading the latest updates, while the free Avira program missed it after fetching its most recent threat definitions.)
If MSE doesn't control cookies, what should I use instead for that job?
Your browser's own settings; both Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox, like all modern browsers, offer a variety of options in this department. But I'll repeat my earlier advice: Worrying about cookies -- little, inert, text files saved to your hard drive by Web sites and Web advertising networks -- is a complete waste of time on security grounds, as they can't do anything. It's often a waste of time on privacy grounds as well, considering the more effective ways that advertisers can learn about you on and off the Web. (Put another way: If cookies really worked to help advertisers target online users, the newspaper industry might not be in such a horrific state.)
If MSE disables Windows Defender, should I uninstall that older Microsoft program on my own?
I'd say go ahead -- except that in Windows 7, Windows Defender doesn't appear in the usual add/remove programs list after an MSE install, even though it still holds down its usual spot in the Start menu. It's as if this program has entered some zombified existence, no longer alive but not dead either. In the one XP system I checked this morning, however, Windows Defender was gone already. (I need to scrounge up a Vista system to see what happens to Defender after an MSE installation in that version of Windows.)
You're wrong to say that Windows Defender alone will do the job. You need multiple lines of defense.
Set aside the performance and reliability issues I mentioned earlier -- no matter how many anti-virus programs you gum up your PC with, you'll still face a risk from a brand-new threat that isn't in anybody's database. But here's a more basic point: If you think you need to crouch behind three or four different security programs every time you go online, that's just not right. The Internet isn't that bad, on average -- something else has to be amiss. Maybe you're going to all the wrong Internet sites; maybe you're not exercising nearly enough skepticism about strange downloads, e-mail attachments and pop-up alerts; maybe you're just so unlucky and snakebit in Windows that you need to switch to Linux or Mac OS X.
Why should I trust Microsoft to protect my computer after their history?
If you feel that way about a free Microsoft program, why did you pay good money for the company's operating system?
Any other questions? Post them in the comments and I'll try to address them there.
October 27, 2009; 4:08 PM ET
Categories: Feedback , Security , Windows
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