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Microsoft does Windows users a favor with Security Essentials

Some weeks, it can seem that my readers hate anti-virus software almost as much as viruses. It's not that people would prefer to see their computers get hacked -- a non-trivial risk with Windows, although Microsoft's last two releases have strengthened its defenses. It's that they don't enjoy having an intrusive program take over the PC, begin ordering them around and then bill them for the privilege. And that's before the security software starts causing weird conflicts with other programs.


In recent years, free anti-virus tools have addressed the financial part of the problem but not the subjective end of it.

At best, you could say that most anti-virus software has been a digital equivalent of the Transportation Security Administration's screenings at airports -- an inconvenience that helps prevent a much worse problem. You could also argue that at its worst, anti-virus software has been more like ... well, the Transportation Security Administration's screenings at airports -- a form of security theater that distracts people from more effective remedies.

As I write in today's column, Microsoft Security Essentials represents a welcome break from that. "MSE" is not just free, it's also free from the nagging and intrusiveness associated with too many anti-virus programs. This is one category of software I don't mind Microsoft barging into, even if that inconveniences the incumbent security-software developers.

I'm not the only one to view this program favorably; many of you wrote favorably about it in comments on an earlier MSE post. My colleague Brian Krebs liked its efficient performance and ability to nail most (but not all) of the malware thrown at it. The Boston Globe's Hiawatha Bray noted that he could still use an aging PC while MSE did a system scan, something impossible with a McAfee anti-virus utility. And Ars Technica complimented its simple interface and unobtrusive operation.

Then again, one reader wrote that Security Essentials let in a fake security program called Security Tool (which would be a problem, although users ought to know better than to get faked out by pushy scareware pitches). Another complained that "it grabs the CPU for a short while every 5 minutes or so" (something I didn't see that in my tests).

Microsoft says that more than 2.6 million people have downloaded Security Essentials so far. Are you among them? If so, let me know how this program's working out in the comments. If not, tell me what anti-virus program you're using instead.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  October 23, 2009; 11:51 AM ET
Categories:  Security , Windows  
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I'm running it on a 5 year old laptop with 1gb Ram, XP SP3. I installed on day one that is was available. It replaced AVG 8.5.

Frankly it's been great. It show's higher resource usage in Task Manager, but frankly, the laptop is a bit snappier than it was with AVG, and settles down after boot up quicker.

I'll be putting it on more of my machines as my attention span warrants...

Posted by: JkR- | October 23, 2009 4:46 PM | Report abuse

Your colleague Mr. Krebs reminded us of the conventional wisdom that you should not run MSE concurrently with ither antivirus programs such as McAfee, Symantec, or the free products like AVG. Yet I have seen at least one post on eWEEK that says everyone should run MSE irrespective of whether they use another security program. What have your tests revealed about running MSE with other antivirus programs?

Posted by: 54Stratocaster | October 23, 2009 5:44 PM | Report abuse

I replaced my other AV package with MSE and immediately performed a full scan. MSE found a trojan that the other AV program had missed. It was in an old folder on an old boot drive that I left in for storage, in the zip file that I downloaded originally, and in the recycle bin. It came with the "unlocker" utility that is very popular. After that I replaced the AV packages on the other two systems in our household and in each case found things the others had missed.

Posted by: bbobccat | October 24, 2009 9:03 AM | Report abuse


This sounds interesting indeed.

I run SuperAntispyware Pro; Malwarebytes Antimalware Pro; Spybot Search & Destroy and Bit Defender Total Secuity 2010.

In my limited experience, they all REALLY target different kinds of junk, i.e., Spybot S&D is going to find stuff that none of the other programs does, but at the same time that usually isn't Trojans, whereas Malwarebytes Antimalware is going to usually check clean, but when it finds something, its major malware, i.e., I accidentally downloaded Malwarebytes BOT instead of Malwarebytes Antimalware and fortunately noticed it immediately and downloaded the correct program. WOW, it caught the bogus malware program [Bot] instantly.

Now I keep Bit Defender Total 2010 because of its 'Tune Up' provisions like PC Cleanup, Shred Files, Clean Registry and Defrag. I especially like the Registry Cleaner, which I find as good as any, but if I have to hack the registry, not an issue.

In any event MB, SAS, & SB have resident editor [?] features that I can disable at the lower right of the screen, so my machine is not slowed down.

Maybe I should also try MSE, so long as I can disable it in a similar fashion.

Posted by: | October 25, 2009 9:48 AM | Report abuse

My Trend I'net Security expires in Jan (as it constantly reminds me) and I will switch over to MSE. Only thing I don't like is the mention of the Win authentication step first. Mine is a good copy but I have avoided downloading any of the authentication updates b/c I feel it is just too intrusive.

Posted by: tbva | October 25, 2009 7:14 PM | Report abuse

I presently use Kaspersky Internet Security (KIS) 2009, and will probably update to the 2010 version soon. KIS certainly has the sensitivities and unexpected conflicts with other programs that you mention. But it has become manageable.

It will be interesting to see comparative rankings of detections for MSE to Kaspersky and other suites. It will also take some convincing to install more MS software than is completely and absolutely necessary.

Posted by: pb2009 | October 26, 2009 10:05 AM | Report abuse

I haven't used any security software in over 3 years. I travel for work and am exposed to so-called security threats daily, without so much as a phishing scam. No viruses, malware, trojan horses or any other harmful code sneaking it's way into my Windows XP PC. I use a cheap router as a hardware firewall, never open suspicious emails and web-surf responsibly. My opinion of all anti-virus software is that it's a gimmick to steal our money that is sold based on fear, not fact. Try removing all your installed security software, you can't. Not without reinstalling windows and starting all over. When I did that, my PC ran WAY faster and I have plenty of room for programs that actually benefit me.

Posted by: Nuc_FX | October 26, 2009 12:03 PM | Report abuse

For years I had no AV programs because I found them to the hassle you describe. When I read about Avast I downloaded the free version and I have no problems what-so-ever. I also use Malwarebyte and Yahoo anti-spy.

I will not be downloading MSE.

Posted by: ChrisBrown11 | October 27, 2009 3:10 PM | Report abuse

I too had no AV program because they were just too much trouble. But I have installed MSE and it's so unobstructive I have forgotten I have it!

Posted by: tundey | October 28, 2009 10:44 AM | Report abuse

I installed Windows Security Essentials about 10 days ago, and agree that it is unobtrusive and effective; it works better for me than the Avira Free I've used for years. I love the fact that I can work on other applications while it does its quick scan.

One problem, though: MSE quick scan works fast on my computer, much slower on my wife's. Any idea why?

Posted by: ejmurphy414 | October 28, 2009 11:35 AM | Report abuse

I tried MS Essentials and found that it slowed down my computer considerably more than Avira Antivir; I quickly switched back to Antivir. I am using an older pc, which may account for the noticeable slowdown. I wonder, though, whether the example you wrote about where Antivir failed to detect a threat that Essentials detected, might happen in the reverse with another threat.

Posted by: immjf | October 31, 2009 10:14 AM | Report abuse

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