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Microsoft's Free Anti-virus Tool Now Available

Windows users looking for a free anti-virus alternative can now take advantage of an offering from Microsoft, which today began offering its Security Essentials anti-virus program.

Microsoft Security Essentials is a real-time and on-demand anti-virus scanner that is free for personal use. It runs on Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7 (both 32-bit and 64-bit versions).

Note that in order to use this software, Windows users will first need to pass Microsoft's Genuine Validation (anti-piracy) check, which checks to make sure that you're running a legitimate, licensed copy of Windows.

The version made available today didn't seem to differ too much from the beta I reviewed earlier this summer: The initial install and update were painless, and the default quick scan took about 10 minutes, while using limited resources on my test machine.

Only time will tell how this offering stacks up against other free AV choices out there, including Avira and AVAST!, as well as the various "cloud-based" free anti-virus products, such as those from Panda and Immunet Protect.

As I stated in my earlier review, I don't buy the notion that Microsoft is somehow taking this step in a bid to upset or unseat leaders in the commercial anti-virus industry: "I suspect Microsoft is offering this software for reasons part public relations and part self-preservation: Redmond knows that anything it can do to ensure that there are fewer malware-infested PCs out there is a good thing. And let's face it, for whatever reason -- even with the impressive number of free anti-virus offerings out there already -- a dangerous number of Windows users continue to use the operating system without any kind of anti-virus software installed. At least with its brand recognition, Microsoft has a good chance of changing that reality to some degree."

If you want to take Microsoft Security Essentials for a test run, you'll need to uninstall any other anti-virus programs on your system (and then reboot) before installing MSE: Having two active anti-virus programs installed on the same PC is never a good idea, as one program will constantly compete with the other for supremacy, likely causing your system to slow to a crawl.

I'm interested in hearing readers' response to this offering: Tell us about your experiences with installing or running this program. Or maybe you wouldn't use an AV product from Redmond even if they paid you to do so. Either way, sound off in the comments below.

Update, 1:43 p.m. ET: We've just published an entry, Stress Testing Microsoft's Free Anti-virus Offering, for those interested in learning more about how this product fared in defending against the latest malware attacks.

By Brian Krebs  |  September 29, 2009; 2:12 PM ET
Categories:  Safety Tips  | Tags: free av, microsoft security essentials  
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Next: Stress Testing Microsoft's Free Anti-virus Offering


I would not trust any anti-virus/spyware/etc. offering from Microsoft. I wouldn't let it with 10 yards of my computer.

Microsoft's careless attitude toward computer security is the source of at least 75% of computer security problems. Even two-plus years down the road they're still uncovering bugs and security holes in Vista.

Like old Ma Bell, Microsoft doesn't care cuz they don't have to. They would rather rush out a shoddy product and then have you depend on a constant barrage of patching updates - which eventually will gum up your OS and force you to "upgrade" to the newest slap-dash Windows product. It's a business plan that works for them, so don't expect it to change soon.

Posted by: bigbrother1 | September 29, 2009 4:52 PM | Report abuse

I'll be installing this on customer machines starting tomorrow. I'm sure it's at least as good as other free products, and I suspect Microsoft knows as much or more about their own vulnerabilities as companies like AVG and Avast.

Posted by: williehorton | September 29, 2009 7:41 PM | Report abuse

DL'd and installed today on a Vista laptop. Replaced an expiring Norton IS. Thankfully the Norton removal was painless and Ms SE install was quick and easy. I'll try it for a month while I wait for 7 to arrive and then decide if I'll use it then. I've been using 7 on the desktop since January and the only AV that's been useful is Kaspersky.

Posted by: jimbo1949 | September 29, 2009 11:27 PM | Report abuse

Dont trust M$. Think I will wait and see how it goes and continue to use AVG.

Posted by: bobtail362 | September 29, 2009 11:30 PM | Report abuse

Home Users: Get a Mac. Once you go Mac, you'll never go back. The rest of this debate is worthless.

Posted by: chevychase10 | September 29, 2009 11:41 PM | Report abuse

Note that this product isn't for use by businesses. The license agreement says "You may install and use any number of copies of the software on devices in
your household for use by people who reside there or for use in your home-based small business."

Posted by: hen999ry-washingtonpost | September 29, 2009 11:41 PM | Report abuse

Well, since my old machine died about 2 weeks ago, I now have a Genuine Copy of Windows [XP Pro with alternative of Vista Business] so I guess I could install this AV, but since I have Bit defender Total Internet Security for 2010, I must imagine that I would be taking quite a downgrade to do so.

Like I wouldn't get the higher end features that have perhaps little to do with AV, but help keep the machine clean of all kinds of junk generally from registry cleaner, recover registry, shred files, PC clean up, find duplicates, disk defragmenter and a vulnerability scan to check what updates are available but not installed. Also the consumer interface in the 2010 edition is extremely straightforward with 3 level users for set up capability.

I also liked Kaspersky when I had it and but-for Norton having gotten a bit sloppy several years back, I might still have Norton. Dido for McAffee.

Posted by: | September 30, 2009 3:19 AM | Report abuse

It gave me the dreaded BSOD and worse!

I installed Microsoft Security Essentials, and it went okay. But when I started the scan, the computer locked while scanning the eighth file (a dll file). Then came the dreaded BSOD, the first ever BSOD for my Samsung R522 notebook bought 3.5 months ago (Core 2 Duo, 3 gbs, 320 gbs) running Vista Home Premium SP2.

Even worse, after I rebooted the computer, it locked after bootup. I rebooted, and this time the system did not lock. I restart the scan, and this time it seemed okay. But during the scan, I clicked the Settings tab out of curiosity, and the computer locked. After reboot, the computer locked again. The same after another reboot. After one more reboot, in a race against time, I managed to restore my disk image via Samsung Recovery Solution III. Fortunately, this was a recent image, so I didn’t lose much.

Posted by: bentleychan | September 30, 2009 4:56 AM | Report abuse

Thank you MS, after my AV expires in a few days I will load MSE. It's a smart and responsible move by MS to protect itself, it's present and future customers.

As an American living in Central Europe, it's just not MS who is being singled out by the hackers. I'm really going to see how well MSE performs...

Posted by: bratis99 | September 30, 2009 5:31 AM | Report abuse

Downloaded yesterday; no problems installing. Dumped avast as per instruction. Results yet to be determined.

Posted by: wuzonce | September 30, 2009 7:04 AM | Report abuse

Installed MSE yesterday. Small download, quick and easy install. MSE has a simple interface and doesn't slow my computer when scanning.
MSE has less ambitious goals than other security software, but taken with Windows Firewall, this seems like good protection.

Posted by: dprozzo | September 30, 2009 7:20 AM | Report abuse

Neither Mr. Krebs nor commenting readers say whether the MS product has frequent updates. For many years they have been the main line of AV defense, since thousands of new viruses appear every month that will not otherwise be detected. The work needed to provide frequent updates is most of what we pay for in AV products.

Posted by: AppDev | September 30, 2009 7:37 AM | Report abuse

I was the one who posted about the Blue Screen of Death (BSOD). Here are some more details:

1. I didn't have any other anti-virus program running.

2. My Vista Home Premium SP2 is 32 bits.

3. Before installing MSE, my Vista system had been the most stable computer I had ever owned (more stable than even my two other computers running XP SP3).

4. I am not a computer expert, but not a newbie either (I program in Delphi and C#).

5. Whenever the computer locked up after installing MSE, I had to do a hard shutdown (Alt-Ctrl-Del did not work).

Posted by: bentleychan | September 30, 2009 8:15 AM | Report abuse

@henry999 -- that was noted. in the second paragraph, "free for personal use".

Posted by: BTKrebs | September 30, 2009 8:26 AM | Report abuse

I installed MSE on an older PC running XP that had an expired NAV. No problem. Quick. Easy. A full scan found one app that it removed. Fine by me. And by the way, what's with some people and their irrational hatered and suspicion about Microsoft? Get over it, will ya?

Posted by: 0nl00k3r | September 30, 2009 8:32 AM | Report abuse

Installation was quick and easy on my HP laptop and Dell desktop. Much less of a resource hog than McAfee. Best of all, both PCs boot up noticably faster.

I like the option to exclude file types (like .jpg) from scanning, although I wish I could select from a list rather than have to type them all in. But, it's a one-time small pain that makes scans even faster.

Posted by: GaryJean | September 30, 2009 9:05 AM | Report abuse


If you're running MSE, should you have Windows Defender turned off too?


Posted by: billster | September 30, 2009 9:10 AM | Report abuse

I'm running the Live OneCare, but that will expire in the spring, so I'll decide then whether to use the free MSAV or use the free Avast or buy something. The thing that irritates me about Microsoft is that you don't know if they're going to discontinue this after a couple of years. They have a habit of quitting on things. They used to offer free av software, then stopped. Then they offered paid av software, then they discontinued that. They discontinued Money, their photo software, etc.

Posted by: nuzuw | September 30, 2009 9:37 AM | Report abuse

In spite of your interpretation of MS's motives, I've watched them destroy the market for screen savers, disk compressers, and more with "free" products that don't belong in an OS but just seemed geared toward damaging companies and markets. I suspect the AV is more of the same.

The good news is, I doubt MS can ever sell this AV product. If they did, they might as well take out ads saying "we sold you a piece of crap, but you can buy stuff from us so it won't be so crappy."

Posted by: MAL9000 | September 30, 2009 9:45 AM | Report abuse

I have one question: why didn't Microsoft fix the kernel and the rest of the O/S when it came out with Vista or Win 7 (or XP, for that matter?) Till such time as the kernel and other O/S components are architected and implemented with security as being a preeminent requisite all the add-ons in the world will not make a difference. Security, as with performance, must be an integral part of the architecture, design, and implementation if it is to be truly effective; anything else is just a poor joke.

One way to force the solution would be to have software companies, such as Microsoft, be responsible for the quality of their products just as other companies are. If you have problem with a car, the government can force a recall or you have the recourse of going to court; the same should apply to software.

Posted by: lennyp | September 30, 2009 9:54 AM | Report abuse

I use the free AVG. Don't plan on using MSE ever. So far as 0nl00k3r's question about irrational hatred of MS, it's not irrational to hate MS if you have good reason. The security issue alone is enough. They sell an OS and patch it to death for it's entire lifetime, and then repeat it again with the next OS. How about fixing the problems before release? But then they wouldn't have the potential to offer the next OS with promises of improved security. How long do you think it will be after Windows 7 is released before the first "critical" update? Not long, we all know that. How long do you think it will be before they threaten to stop supporting XP, even though Vista was a disaster? But the uproar will make them back off, because way too many people will be hanging on to XP for a good while.

Posted by: tojo45 | September 30, 2009 11:38 AM | Report abuse

I installed the Microsoft program Tuesday as soon as I learned about it. I first removed the free version of AVG. Installation was smooth. I signed up for Advanced Membership in Spynet. Very satisfactory.

Posted by: ram9478 | September 30, 2009 11:52 AM | Report abuse

Better some protection that no protection. Despite the fact that it comes from Microsoft.

Posted by: mazupan | September 30, 2009 11:57 AM | Report abuse

Installed yesterday and it was a breeze. It seems less complex and easier to use than the Trend Micro it replaces. Plus, I'm set up with AV when Win7 arrives.

Posted by: lienkirk | September 30, 2009 12:30 PM | Report abuse

I was in the beta for MSE and have had no problems at all runing on two different computers.

For billster I believe MSE removes Windows Defender as it replaces it.

Posted by: walterwood44 | September 30, 2009 12:58 PM | Report abuse

I think this is what Microsoft will do:
1. Un-Install other AVs and use Microsoft Security Essentials for free
2. You cannot uninstall Microsoft Security Essentials any more and stuck with MS
3. Start charging $$ to use it otherwise your PC cannot go to any site other than MSN
4. Need to say nore.
I wonder if anybody (Norton, AVG, etc) look into this Microsoft Security Essentials "Code" and see why MS offers it free

Posted by: henry_J_chen1 | September 30, 2009 1:54 PM | Report abuse

Hey tojo45 – name me one operating system that does not patch? Linux, Mac, Windows – they all have patches… For those of you MS haters thinking that MS is a monopoly with its embedded software, Apple is the worst! They sell you an operating system specifically designed on their overpriced hardware; you have no choice – try installing Snow Leopard on a Dell, it won’t work. Whereas with Windows you can purchase any hardware computer you want and install – that is freedom of choice.

Posted by: SammyB1 | September 30, 2009 2:08 PM | Report abuse

Switched to Ubuntu Linux last year. Easy to use and I don't need anti-virus software. Runs much better than Windows. Goodbye M$!

Posted by: tgoglia | September 30, 2009 2:46 PM | Report abuse

re: chevychase10

I had a Mac, a Performa 580, remember that crap Apple pushed on Students and the rest of us in the early 90's. Hard drive failed 3 times 6 months, support was abysmal...would I consider a Mac again? Only if Apple buys back my Performa!

Posted by: lumiere0 | September 30, 2009 3:26 PM | Report abuse

Does this thing rely on Automatic Updates to be turned on? Or worse, will it change your Automatic Updates setting to "On" and not tell the user?

I prefer to set Automatic Updates to "Notify but do not download or install" to control exactly what gets installed on my system. Also, I usually wait at least 10 days after patches are released...let others be the test gerbils or guinea pigs for Microsoft.

MSE may be getting some good press reviews but like all Microsoft products, you should wait a while for the initial bugs to come out.

I.e. Never install a Microsoft operating system until after the first service pack is released. Since they don't issue service packs for anti-virus products, I'd wait until a month's worth of updates have gone by.

Posted by: taskforceken | September 30, 2009 4:24 PM | Report abuse

I'd like to take this moment to offer my unsolicited and uncompensated endorsement of AVAST! Antivirus. I'm the type of hypocrite who wants something for nothing, and then wants my free stuff to be worth more than what I paid for it.

I prefer AVAST! over AVG and Avira for a variety of reasons I won't detail. Unless MSE consistently benchmarks ahead of Avast in detection and removal, I see no reason to change.

Besides which, MS has a long history of treating their early adopters like lab animals. I hope MSE proves to be safe, effective and reliable. Let's wait six months and see.

Posted by: conspirator5 | September 30, 2009 6:52 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Krebs stated:
"The initial install and update were painless, and the default quick scan took about 10 minutes, while using limited resources on my test machine."

True. However, try a full scan with NO other resources running. A full scan with Avira with other applications running takes about 30-35 minutes. Using the Micro$oft anti-virus on a full scan with NO resources took over 1 hour, 26 minutes. And that was on a machine that has a single hard drive and two external drives with a total of less than 30.7 GB of data to scan (and free space on the disks of more than 219.8 GB).

Can we say S-L-O-W???

S-L-O-W as molasses in January in northern Maine???

Customizing the scanning? Very easy to do with Avira. Is it possible with the Micro$oft anti-virus product?

The Micro$oft anti-virus software has been taken off my PC, and the Automatic Update has been reset to my preferred setting, not Micro$oft's setting.

Posted by: critter69 | September 30, 2009 7:21 PM | Report abuse

I removed AVG on 2 machines, one Vista and the other XP. The installation only took a couple of minutes. I switched because sometimes those 3rd party freebies' servers aren't the speediest things in the world. I think this is the first download from Microsoft for which I could use Firefox.

Posted by: b_100666 | September 30, 2009 7:21 PM | Report abuse

this antivirus kill the worst pc virus (windows vista) from my pc?


Posted by: xsuperstore | September 30, 2009 7:27 PM | Report abuse

Avira works fine, tried it after reading Brian's other article... even going to pay for it.

I don't trust Microsoft. period.

Posted by: kkrimmer | September 30, 2009 9:21 PM | Report abuse

Unless it works with Windows 2000 it is useless - as are most Microsoft products.

Posted by: tuzoner | September 30, 2009 9:55 PM | Report abuse

I switched to Ubuntu Linux 3 1/2 years ago. No viruses. No worries. Built-in firewall. A few years ago, there were challenges. Hardware support was sketchy. Proprietary file formats were not supported well--such as support for video and DVD's.

Open Source has come such a long way and it's really a nice system now. I can buy inexpensive hardware and pay nothing extra for software. Install Ubuntu Linux. Most of my favorite applications and browser are installed by default, and the rest are a click away by download.

When I first got a new Windows machine a few years ago, I remember how annoyed I was at all the teaser junk and advertisements loaded on my machine. I just went on a wholesale deletion frenzy. Linux isn't trying to sell me anything.

The PC with Windows had lots of "Try now pay later," but included software was light-weight. I basically had a machine with a browser and no software. The Ubuntu package is the real deal. And no viruses.

Posted by: linear | September 30, 2009 10:14 PM | Report abuse

When will MS realize there is no such thing
as a foolproof anti-virus tool? I think they already know it and this so-call AV tool is a gimmick to take your money by convincing you to purchase their other computer products. The smart hackers will dis-assemble MS' new tool and compromise it with ease. On the other hand, I do know what they already know, i.e., there really exist a technique that is foolproof enough to defeat any virus attack. I'm not telling!

Posted by: rbsoares | September 30, 2009 11:05 PM | Report abuse

Easy to download great clean up...

Posted by: Steve12341 | October 2, 2009 3:06 PM | Report abuse

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