Microsoft Security Essentials Review
Microsoft (who obviously need no introduction) launched Security Essentials in 2009. At the time, the free package was seen as an alternative to popular free antivirus packages such as AVG and Avira.
Since then, people’s opinions of the product have been mixed, so we were keen to see how the current version measured up to other free antivirus solutions and those that come with a price tag attached.
Sadly, although we liked the simplicity and design of the program, it let in one of our test viruses. As such, we cannot really recommend it.
There are no purchase options for Microsoft Security Essentials as the program is completely free!
The program is suitable for Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7. It is NOT compatible with Windows 8. In this version of the operating system, the Windows Defender component has been upgraded to include the features within Security Essentials.
The program is free for small business users with up to ten PCs, as well as for consumers. Microsoft claim that the product is “based on the same technology that Microsoft uses to protect giant businesses.”
The features round-up is basically what you can see above. The items mentioned are so basic that they wouldn’t usually warrant a mention in this section of one of our reviews, but as there are no others to speak of, they are:
Automatic Updates: This requires no explanation.
Multiple Language Support: The program is on offer in 33 different languages. In truth, this is probably more that most vendors offer!
Malware Protection: Although little detail is given on this, it implies that the software can cope with adware, trojans and other threats, as well as standard viruses.
Low Footprint: As with many antivirus package, Microsoft Security Essentials promises a low footprint that keeps your computer “snappy” in use.
We were far from impressed with the list of features, but Microsoft don’t claim to be offering any more that an “essentials” package. So, we refrained from judgement until after installation and testing.
Installation and Configuration
With no free trials to worry about for this review, we headed straight to the Microsoft website and downloaded the small (10.7MB) installation file.
The first step was a quick click of the “next” button:
We were then required to accept the licensing agreement, and choose whether to participate in Microsoft’s “Customer Experience Improvement Program.”
Next, the installer offered to turn on the Windows Firewall during installation, which was irrelevant to us as it was already active on our Windows 7 test machine. There was also a tick-box to control whether we were happy to send virus “sample” files to Microsoft.
After making us confirm we had no other antivirus or Internet security software loaded, the install proceeded.
The install was complete in a matter of seconds, and as soon as we clicked “Finish” a definition update began.
The update process took a few minutes. Once it was complete, a quick scan of our PC took place automatically. We were then free to explore the program’s interface.
The GUI was very basic, but clean and well designed. As should really be expected from Microsoft, it looked just like an extension to the operating system.
We were also pleased to see a fairly decent set of settings menus. However, there was absolutely nothing to surprise us in terms of functionality. This really is a basic antivirus package.
We decided the time had come to move on to our real life tests.
We used our usual infected USB key to test out Microsoft Security Essentials with some real-life viruses.
We were a bit disappointed just to see the usual “AutoPlay” menu once we inserted our memory stick. We always prefer it when security software offers an immediate scan.
We clicked “open folder to view files” and waited for a little while. After about thirty seconds, one of our threat files disappeared (the installer for a “scareware” Trojan), but the other two files remained visible on the key.
We started with the easiest of the remaining threats, a test virus from the European Expert Group for IT Security. When we double-clicked it, it was immediately quarantined by Security Essentials.
Next, we moved on to our final threat, a fake Google Chrome installer containing various malware items.
Unfortunately, Security Essentials did nothing to stop us installing it.
After clicking through the installer, we were left with a rather messy test PC, complete with a hijacked browser.
As a final step in our testing, we checked out the system footprint of Microsoft Security Essentials during a full virus scan.
Memory usage was good, never moving higher than 60MB. CPU use was consistently around the 30% mark – all rather average.
It’s quite hard to ascertain exactly what kind of support you get for Microsoft Security Essentials.
Although there is the offer to “get help from a support professional,” clicking it takes you to a generic Windows support portal. Sadly, we know that it’s unrealistic to expect to quickly get to talk to a “real person” when dealing with a company the size of Microsoft.
- Simple and well-integrated with Windows
We weren’t so sure about
- Features as basic as we’ve seen
- No suggestion to scan USB devices
- Failed to find one of our test viruses
As techies, we were aware that Microsoft Security Essentials doesn’t always do very well in antivirus software round-ups, so we didn’t expect great things when we started our review.
This feeling continued when we saw the diminutive size of the features list, but things did look up while we installed the software – we were actually quite taken with its simplicity.
With this in mind, we would have happily recommended it to beginners with basic requirements, IF it had caught all of our test viruses. Sadly, however, it didn’t.
This leaves us with a product that’s light on features and doesn’t keep your computer completely secure. Not only are there better options out there, there are better FREE options too.