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.
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