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Microsoft Security Essentials: Compatibility Will Be Essential Too

This week, Microsoft began offering users some free help with computer-security issues: a no-charge anti-virus and anti-spyware program called Microsoft Security Essentials for Windows XP, Vista and 7.


Security Essentials, first announced last November, replaces Microsoft's older, non-free OneCare product. It competes with free anti-virus programs from such companies as Avast, AVG and Avira.

Unlike other no-charge security tools, Security Essentials' license allows some non-personal use -- you can use it in a home-based small business. This application also differs from competitors by requiring "validation" of your Windows system: Its installer will stop working if it can't verify that you have a genuine, paid-for copy.

My colleague Brian Krebs has been covering Security Essentials on his Security Fix blog; on Tuesday, he noted its release, and yesterday he wrote about one third-party test of its defenses.

I'm trying out Security Essentials as well -- I plan to review it in my column in the next couple of weeks--but I'll need your help to answer one important question: Will this application play well with others?

Unfortunately, Windows security software has a long and dishonorable history of inflicting such collateral damage as slower performance, nagging prompts and weird conflicts with other programs. There are all sorts of tests I can perform on the four Windows systems I've lined up for my review, but history has taught me that there's no substitute for reports from the field.

So I want to know how Security Essentials has been working on your PC: Does it stumble over your other programs? Does it slow down your start-up or shutdown times? Does it make a nuisance of itself in some other way? Please post your report in the comments.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  October 1, 2009; 11:10 AM ET
Categories:  Security , Windows  
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I installed it yesterday morning on an old Pentium M laptop with 1GB of RAM, and so far, so good.

While it looks like it's taking a larger footprint in the Task Manager than my old AVG 8.5 did, frankly, I'm finding most programs to open a little snappier.

The UI is a breeze, which will be nice, and installation and options no issue at all.

Fairly positive from me so far.

Posted by: JkR- | October 1, 2009 12:40 PM | Report abuse

I've been using Security Essentials since the first beta was made available. Both my desktop and laptop are dual boot with Vista and Windows 7 and I have Essentials on all but the Vista installation on the laptop. As best I can tell it hasn't slowed any of the installations down or interfered with any other programs. I haven’t noticed any change in startup times. The interface is simple and setup is easy. The quick scan is quick but a full scan takes a very long time on my desktop.

The programs Essentials replaced were from CA (free from my ISP) and AVG and I prefer essentials to both of them—the AVG in particular—I had no problems with AVG except that it seems more intrusive and needs a little more attention than essentials.

Posted by: frank_s3 | October 1, 2009 2:00 PM | Report abuse

Your Mac bias is strange. I use a Mac and love my Mac, but you always have to dig at Microsoft in some way. It's like a tic or something. You don't resurrect Apple's past failures as a prelude to reviewing their current software in the same way you do with Microsoft. Apple's software sucked for a long time too but somehow you've moved past that.

Anyway, it would be a shame to be so petty with this review because MSE is easily the best anti-malware program I've ever used. It's effective, easy to use, hidden, unobtrusive and uses very little system resources. I've been running it in Bootcamp under Windows 7 and on a desktop computer running XP since the beta and it's been flawless.

I criticize Microsoft when it's warranted, but consumer tech journalists seem so sycophantic toward Apple that they don't apply the same standards to Apple as they do Microsoft which is a disservice to their readers. The starry-eyed bleating just gets boring and it pays lip-service to all of the good things Microsoft is doing lately. Just one example of many was when Rob relayed a problem on his iMac that was described as "solved" when he was forced to reboot the machine. He was clearly pleased with that outcome. However, if a Windows problem required a reboot then you can be sure the tone would be frustration with typical, buggy Windows.

I don't know what you're doing wrong because I've been using Macs and Windows computers for a long time, and their reliability and ease of use is very similar. Even non-tech family members and friends aren't experiencing the problems that seem to plague Rob's columns. My mother was apprehensive about the Windows laptop she got for Christmas because by reading most tech journalists you'd think she would have been better off pitching it with the tree. 10 months later she hasn't called me to fix anything. I know anecdotal stories are to be taken with a grain of salt, but with at least 9 users for every Mac user of course you're going to hear about more Windows problems than Mac problems, but judging by most newspapers you'd think Mac problems were rarer than hens teeth. They're not. And it's that biased attitude that leads writers like Rob to exaggerate Windows' problems and minimize Apple's. Snow Leopard was the latest example of this unwarranted gushing. There were more problems with SL among my Apple friends than there was among my friends who switched to the Win 7 RC. I know, I know, it would be impossible judging by the bootlicking that passes for mainstream tech journalism.

Anyway, I like Apple, I like my Mac, but I also value the truth and between Mossberg, Pogue and Pegararo it's hard to find an obsequious-free zone in the MSM these days.

Posted by: scarper86 | October 1, 2009 7:33 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: hecrivera61 | October 2, 2009 4:32 AM | Report abuse

Rob, Thanks for your helpful article, and especially for your earlier article about Microsoft's new vastly improved free video editor.

I am also intrigued by the fact that you met your wife through email! (I found out by clicking "About Rob Pegoraro"). Felicitations!

Posted by: bentleychan | October 2, 2009 6:42 AM | Report abuse

I've been using the new Security Essentials since June on both Vista Ultimate x64 and Windows 7. It's been less intrusive than Kaspersky or Symantec, and I've noticed no performance degradation. It's not as functional as a full Internet security suite, or as configurable, but it's functional.

Posted by: rjmonkeyboy | October 2, 2009 7:59 AM | Report abuse

Microsoft's Essentials on my four computers is doing exactly what its designed to do.Stop virus and spyware.No problems it works great.Why pay when you can get a free program that does everything a paid program does?

Posted by: fcs25 | October 2, 2009 8:22 AM | Report abuse

Have an Aspire One netbook, 2 GB RAM, Vista SP2, and been using the MS antivirus for several days. It works fine and seems a very good product, as does IE8 and also, contrary to many views, the Vista OS. But I still use Firefox with several security add-ons.

Posted by: byron11 | October 2, 2009 8:30 AM | Report abuse

I was using Symantec AntiVirus 10 Corporate Edition (SAV) on my home computer, which has a 3 GHz Pentium 4 and 2.5 GB of RAM. SAV was a memory hog and had an annoying habit of running a massive scan during boot-up and after hibernation. I uninstalled SAV and installed Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE). After boot-up, I noticed that the system uses 80 MB less RAM. Boot-up is much, much faster. Programs load up faster as well. What I would like to know is whether MSE offers real-time protection comparable to SAV.

Posted by: vanand74 | October 2, 2009 8:39 AM | Report abuse

I'm running Windows XP Professional on a MacBook Pro using Parallels 4.0 with 4GB RAM (with 2GB allotted to the virtual machine. Since I'm "exposing" my Mac to Microsoft, I figured I needed some virus protection. So far, so good. It hasn't noticeably slowed down my system at all and everything seems to be working without any bugs (although it's only been less than a week). Install was very easy and scan was quick. Would like to know how it'll hold up against the commercially available paid programs in terms of being able to pick up the viruses it needs. But I figure it's better than no virus protection and it's free!

Posted by: almd1 | October 2, 2009 9:05 AM | Report abuse

I installed Security Essentials on an ancient Win XP laptop and on a beta-test copy of Win 7. In both cases, it is light on resources and seems to work just fine.

If Microsoft would integrate firewall control, Symantec and their friends would have to turn off the lights and go home. (Yes, I know I can configure the 2-way firewall available under Windows manually, but it is a pain.)

Posted by: obss | October 2, 2009 9:45 AM | Report abuse

I've installed Essentials on three desktops (XP) and two laptops (Vista) now and it works great. Startup and shutdown are definitely faster than when I was running Norton 360. Also, scans seem to take up fewer resources, or at least have a much smaller impact on the ability to perform other tasks in the foreground. No stability issues at all. Finally, Essentials found two inactive Trojans that Norton 360 evidently missed!

Posted by: Squeezeplay1 | October 2, 2009 10:49 AM | Report abuse

the issue is not only if it is light on resources but if it work as expected...

Posted by: Deelaylama | October 2, 2009 11:45 AM | Report abuse

meaning that discovers all viruses and spyware, in my experience even bein updated some antivirus/spyware wont detect some of them

Posted by: Deelaylama | October 2, 2009 11:48 AM | Report abuse

No anti-virus software is 100% secure against the bad guys. Some of the burden is on the user. Stupid is as stupid does. What Microsoft has put together appears to work as well as any of the other free security programs. Just bear in mind that anti-virus software is only part of your defense.

Posted by: obss | October 2, 2009 12:01 PM | Report abuse

I installed it yesterday, and today I encountered delays.
I am running Firefox and it prompted after an error report that I needed to upgrade to current level to avoid my problem.
I'm not sophisticated enough to know if the Essentials was the hiccup, but since I loaded the latest version of Firefox everything is running very well thank you.

Posted by: gee3 | October 2, 2009 12:45 PM | Report abuse

Installed Security Essentials on Wednesday and it's been smooth sailing all the way. It's easier to use and probably at least as effective as subscription Trend Micro. Sorry to disappoint you in your search dirt under Microsoft's rug.

Posted by: lienkirk | October 2, 2009 1:59 PM | Report abuse

In addition to ease of installation, running and effectiveness, what about getting along with such programs as SuperAntiSpyware and Malwarebytes?

What about Windows Defender? If it runs with it, in which WD mode?

Posted by: Bartolo1 | October 2, 2009 2:52 PM | Report abuse

I have been using ZoneAlarm Security Suite for a year and my annual dues arrived, so I decided to give Security Essentials a try. I use XP/SP3, and with ZoneAlarm fully functional, it took my computer almost 4 min. to boot, so I ran it in reduced mode, and the interface was not that easy to use. After thoroughly cleaning ZoneAlarm files and the registry, installing Security Essentials was a breeze. In fact, it went so easy, I thought I made a mistake. So far I have only had one pop-up, and that was after an online session with Steam. I installed on Wednesday and as far as I know it's working fine, although it's hard to tell, because it seems to be handling everything in the backgroud with only one pop-up so far. Boot time is under 2 min., which is fine for me. I like it so far, and if it does its job, I will be happy with Microsoft.

Posted by: dburke0 | October 2, 2009 3:03 PM | Report abuse

to Bartolo: Security Essentials apparently turns off Defender. I've had a screen notice that Defender is turned off and I certainly didn't do it.

Posted by: lienkirk | October 2, 2009 4:31 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, Lienkirk. Ideally, I would like to think that MS might give us something that will allow us to get rid of the several other security programs we have to worry about being up to date and effective.

Posted by: Bartolo1 | October 2, 2009 4:48 PM | Report abuse

Windows Defender should be disabled if MSE is installed, but I won't remove it because I like the Software Explorer tool. It has found a couple of problems for me.

Posted by: b_100666 | October 2, 2009 5:54 PM | Report abuse

I'm running Windows XP Professional on a MacBook Pro using Parallels 4.0 with 2 GB RAM. Installed and ran fine. But when I try to start XP now it crashes with a "Fatal Error"so I cannot start it at all. I am waiting for Parallels to get back to me with my request for a fix.

Posted by: LHG1 | October 2, 2009 7:38 PM | Report abuse

I'm running Security Essentials on my own Windows 7 Ultimate (RTM) laptop. So far, all the applications -- including some that don't play well with Win7 (or Win6) seem unaffected.
I also installed it on several XP computers belonging to customers this week. One was a fresh installation on a new drive after malware trashed the previous drive, so I used SE to scan the old drive. It scanned 120 GB of data in under 2 hours, and found quite a few files.
I liked the way the results listed each strain of malware only once, and I could then see (or ignore) a list of all the files it found for each one. I also liked the way it listed what each type of malware does, so I could tell the customer what may have been affected. (She'll be up all night tonight, changing passwords...)
I think it runs fine. AVG caused new tab problems in IE, so I won't miss it.

Posted by: williehorton | October 2, 2009 8:07 PM | Report abuse

I am running the paid OneCare on my three computers; should I uninstall OneCare?

Posted by: edmundsingleton1 | October 3, 2009 4:25 AM | Report abuse


Thank you for your support of Windows 7 and thank you for evaluating Windows 7 RC! Have you pre-ordered your copy of Win 7 yet? If you are planning on purchasing Windows 7 when it is released it may be helpful to know you don't have to wait to reserve your copy of Win 7! You can pre-order your copy of Windows 7 Home Premium or Windows 7 Professional today. For more information, see the Windows 7 Pre-Order offer page here:

Also, if you are currently a student you may qualify for the $30 upgrade to Windows 7. For more information, please go here:

Microsoft Windows Client Team

Posted by: JessicaD42 | October 5, 2009 11:11 AM | Report abuse

I'm running XP SP2 and ZoneAlarm. I have tried twice to get Security Essentials to do a full scan of my computer. The first time it stopped on the System Volume Information folder. But in SE you can tell it to avoid that folder. The second time it just froze after scanning about 600,000 files (at least that's the number it reported.) And both times were with ZoneAlarm's antivirus and antispyware turned off. I'll use SuperAntiSpyware, which has always worked for me. Microsoft needs to do more testing on this one.

Posted by: fishmp | October 5, 2009 1:05 PM | Report abuse

Wow! A real user not a fanbois of any OS. I also read the bias on his posts, but he does a better job than many tech writers. But he does have a discernible bias in all his writing when MS or Apple are the subject. However he does get it close enough to right in his posts to keep us at least aware of issues and ongoing developments.

But it is refreshing to see another who uses several OS' that is willing to belly up to the bar and admit that there are preferences, not perfect programs in the world, no MS, not Apple, but as of today they are getting better all the time.

Thanks for not making it an Apple vs MS post, just a user who knows that, or an Apple apologia, or a windows fanbois post. Now that was refreshing. I'll look for your sig in feedbacks. I might learn something. ;)

Posted by: Derek1952 | October 5, 2009 1:43 PM | Report abuse

I have noticed a problem with updating. There is no auto-update I have found. The info states it will notify you if it has not been updated in 7 DAYS! I have been manually updating when I remember.


MS generates an update every day, why don't they auto-update?

Posted by: jimbo1949 | October 6, 2009 9:20 PM | Report abuse

@fishmp: I had the same problem you had, and found out that MSE can conflict with certain firewalls (which causes the freezes). Using windows firewall instead of zone alarm solved the issue for me.

Posted by: nloffred | October 7, 2009 1:17 AM | Report abuse

Concerning auto updates...
Using Microsoft Security Essentials

Look @ settings TAB under Scheduled scan
Tick the box for latest virus & spyware definitions before running a scheduled scan and you will always be up to date if you scan daily.

I've tried all the top AV & Spyware programs. MSE ran alongside NOD32 and caught everything that NOD 32 caught. I've been running MSE since it became available as beta. The program itself has been updated 2 or 3 times since.
I run this program on WIN 7 RTM 6.1.7600.16385
Intel P4 @ 3 ghz with 3gb ram

Posted by: v1451 | October 8, 2009 12:05 AM | Report abuse

AVG just announced their new v 9.0 release of products. AVG Free Anti-Virus 9.0 includes Identity Theft Recovery Unit within the US. It also includes AVG LinkScanner. This gives users real-time safe surf protection. CRN ChannelWeb wrote about their paid Internet Security product on October 6. The headline - AVG 9.0 Better For Windows 7 Than Microsoft Security Essentials. .

Posted by: Craig15 | October 8, 2009 11:04 AM | Report abuse

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