Is Microsoft Security Essentials Right For You?

The new Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) helps protect your PC from spyware, rootkits, trojans, viruses, and other malicious software.

But how does it compete against other free and paid security software?

Today I’ll go over some of the features in Microsoft Security Essentials and give you a better idea of what exactly is being offered, before you download.

First of all, you can install MSE for free on any genuine installation of Windows XP (with Service Pack 2 or higher,) Vista, and Windows 7. The validation check is actually done during the install similar to Windows Media Player, rather than before downloading which is the more common validation method for Microsoft Software.

Initial Thoughts After Installing Microsoft Security Essentials

Is Microsoft Security Essentials Right For You?My initial thoughts on the security suite were that it was fairly light-weight for what it offered.

The XP version weighed in at around 8.3MB, the 64-bit Windows Vista/7 version was 4.7MB, and the 32-bit Windows Vista/7 version was down to only 4.3MB.

I installed the 32-bit version on Windows 7 and found that fully updated, it had only used about 11MB total, hich is small compared to AVG at about 47MB.

Size isn’t everything though, as AVG has been out much longer and undoubtedly has a much larger definitions database, which could be a downfall for MSE. However, looking at MSE’s update rate (multiple per day) that will likely change quickly with time.

A Fair Warning!

Microsoft notes that you should not install Security Essentials alongside any other security program.

After installing, Windows Defender is automatically disabled, which makes sense considering this is essentially a newer and arguably better security suite. If installed alongside another anti-virus, my tests showed significant slowdown and frequent 100% CPU usage on my test machine making the OS extremely unstable.

So before installing, be sure to uninstall any other security software currently on your system or you’ll most likely be spending some time in Task Manager and Resource Manager in order to regain control of your system.

The only way to fully repair a bad installation, from my experience at least, is to completely uninstall or at least completely disable all anti-virus or similar software, uninstall MSE, restart the system, and finally, after making sure all components are no longer installed or running, (a visit to MSConfig.exe is a good idea,) you can safely reinstall MSE.

After doing this on test machines, I was able to regain full functionality without any speed hiccups or other symptoms.

Graphical User Interface (GUI) in MSE

The GUI for MSE is simple and to the point. You have tabs for everything you would expect and you are only given things you need on each screen, making usage very clear.

For example, on the Home screen you have a large computer screen that denotes whether Real Time Protection is on or off. If it’s on, you’ll see a green check mark, a green description, and a green heading noting that everything is running as it should be (just like in the screenshot below).

Microsoft Security Essentials

If it’s off, you’ll see a red “X” and accompanying red descriptors. The green or red header can also be seen no matter what tab you are in, so you always know if your system is secure.

The Update tab is equally simple to use; on the left you’ll have information on when your definition files have been updated and if they are still up to date or not, and on the right you have a large “Update” button which does just what it should.

Updates are quick and easy and in my tests did not take more than 30-60 seconds to completely update. However, updates are released through Microsoft Update quite often, sometimes multiple times a day, which is a good thing.

Considering how fast the updates are, I would recommend updating your definitions daily or weekly, and although Microsoft notes that core and system updates should come monthly, checking for core updates weekly would also be smart, quick, and safe.

Settings in Microsoft Security Essentials

Now just because MSE has a clean interface, it doesn’t mean it is lightweight in terms of features. While it does not offer all of the customization available in other security suites, it offers what would be expected and a bit more.

Let’s go over what can be modified within the application. The first setting you’ll be able to customize is the Scheduled Scan. Not only can you choose how often and at what time, but you can also choose the type of scan, whether or not it should check for new definitions, and whether it should start the scan if the computer is in use.

The next option gives you a choice on what the program should do if different types of potential threats are found. For example, you might choose to automatically quarantine threats classified by the program as “Severe” or “High Risk,” while simply recommending an action to you and letting you decide what to do for “Medium” or “Low” alert levels.

You are also given a choice to turn Real Time Protection on or off, as well as the option to monitor all file and program activity, and the option to scan all downloaded files and attachments automatically.

The next three options allow you to exclude certain areas of your computer from being searched and protected. You can exclude files and locations in the first tab, file types in the second tab, and processes in the third. This is especially helpful for applications that often output false positives.

In the Advanced tab you have four choices. The first allows the program to scan archived files including “.ZIP” and “.CAB” files. The second choice allows the program to scan inserted removable drives such as USB Flash Drives or External Hard Drives. The third choice will allow the program to create a daily system restore point. Finally, the fourth choice allows non-administrators to view a full history of detected items in the history tab.

The last option is for Microsoft SpyNet. SpyNet is simply an online community that compiles information in order to better help you decide how to deal with potential threats.

You have two options when it comes to SpyNet memberships. The basic membership sends only the most important information on threats encountered, while the advanced membership sends a longer, more detailed report.

You should also note that some of your personal information may be unintentionally sent to Microsoft, however they will not use your information to identify or contact you in any way.

Final Thoughts on Microsoft Security Essentials

After taking a full trial of the software for about a week now, including some ups and downs, I can honestly say that MSE is a fully capable competitor to some of the other major free and paid security suites available.

Although the system is still fairly new, it already runs with a very low profile, has a large definitions database that is growing daily, and has a visually appealing and simple yet usable user interface.

Though there may be a few bugs left to kink out, MSE has a very promising backbone that looks to offer a better option for those looking to secure their PCs on a budget.

How to Install MSE on Your System

In my next article, I’ll show you step-by-step how to install Microsoft Security Essentials on your system.

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