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Bill Bennett

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Microsoft’s barely there Security Essentials

Microsoft Security Essentials is so light on system resources there’s no noticeable effect on performance.

And yet the free application protects systems from malware and attacks.

Lightweight

Security Essentials is lightweight compared with Microsoft’s earlier, paid-for, OneCare security.

It only uses 280k of system memory on the test machine. The download is 8.5Mb. The installed program occupies about 12Mb scattered between the Program Files and Program Data folders on the C: drive. There could be other components stored elsewhere. Getting the full picture about software installations isn’t easy when you run Windows 7.

One week has passed since installing the software. There’s been no  performance hit running Security Essentials. System benchmarks are the same with and without the program installed.

This compares with Norton Internet Security 2010 which slowed the machine by 4 percent at first. It then worsened to the point where it became unusable after ten hours.

Microsoft’s program took seconds to download. Then another five minutes or so to fetch the necessary anti-malware signatures. The system runs Windows 7 beta. It is  up-to-date which meant things were smooth. The Security Essentials installer insists you download and install all the Windows updates first.

Scanning goes on for ever

I ran a full system scan and regretted the decision. Scanning isn’t fast. The software warns users scans may take some time. The first scan was still running some six hours after first installing the software.

It is possible to scan attached drives with the software, but there aren’t enough hours in the day to test this.

To date Security Essentials hasn’t found anything on this computer. To check the software’s effectiveness, I also scanned with Panda Cloud Antivirus and Avast. Neither found anything. Nor did Norton Internet Security 2010 find anything before it was removed.

Google-like interface

Microsoft learnt a thing or two competing with Google in recent years. The user interface on Security Essentials is minimalist. It uses bright red to show problems and is green while everything is safe. There are hardly any controls. Compare this to the user interface on Norton Internet Security 2010 which is like the flight deck of the Star Ship Enterprise. The good news is there are few things to tinker with and break. I didn’t notice anything needing changes.

When a threat appears online, real-time protection mode kicks-in and displays a pop-up message. This appears in the bottom right hand corner of the screen. You can dismiss it with a click or get more information. A lot more information than you’ll ever need.

Evil empire

You can’t argue with Microsoft’s price for Security Essentials. It is free. It looks as if it was part of the operating system from the outset. And it may have been. But Microsoft doesn’t include it as standard with Windows 7 because of anti-trust considerations. There are people who are wary of using security software from Microsoft. Some argue security problems only exist because of flaws in the company’s operating systems. Maybe. But the Macintosh is no longer immune.

Security Essentials competitors

Norton’s paid-for security products are more advanced than Microsoft Security Essentials. The name makes that clear. This software does about 90 percent of the job of protecting your computer from attack.

If you run a home system, have a hardware firewall and keep applications and systems software up to date, Security Essentials should protect you from all but the most serious attacks.

Microsoft Security Essentials is not suitable for business users and not the best choice if your set-up is, let’s say, anarchic. Paid for products may give you better piece of mind.

Microsoft scrubs up well against the free competitors. Without extensive testing Avast looks better. A solid free program from AVG is also good. We experienced problems with these as the free versions are hard to find among the paid-for options at the two sites.

Another alternative is the excellent Panda Cloud Antivirus. This is one of the best kept secrets in the security business. It neither nags nor hides behind a paid alternative. You can read more about Panda and Avast in Alternatives to Norton Internet Security.

Pluses:

  • free
  • downloads and installs in minutes
  • works straight away
  • simple, unobtrusive
  • easy to understand
  • no performance hit

Minuses:

  • slow scanning
  • relatively untried
  • doesn’t offer the best protection

Overall:

A basic security product from a big name at an unrivalled price. Get this if you have no budget and are not confident dealing with other free security applications.

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