| By Woody Leonhard |
Late last month, Microsoft released a public beta of Security Essentials — code named Morro — and invited “genuine” Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7 users to give it a try.
While free antivirus and antispyware from Microsoft resonates with this Windows victim, you need to be aware of privacy concerns and other compromises entailed in using MSE before you test the program.
MSE may enable Windows automatic updates
Free is good. Microsoft’s offering of free protection for security flaws in the company’s own products is long overdue.
Microsoft Security Essentials consists of a free, realtime anti-malware scanner — and that’s it. If you have a “genuine” copy of Windows XP SP2 or later, Vista, or Windows 7, you qualify to take the MSE beta out for a test drive. (Note that as of July 8, the MSE beta program remains closed.) But don’t get ahead of yourself just yet. There are some, uh, tradeoffs you should know about.
When Microsoft Security Essentials installs, it disables Windows Defender. As I describe in my September 4, 2008, column, Windows Defender includes a spyware tracker as well as several ancillary utilities. It’s an optional download for Windows XP but a major component of Vista; in Win7, Windows Defender is relegated to a backwater.
Microsoft claims that MSE replaces and improves upon Windows Defender, but that’s only partially true. The biggest loss comes for XP and Vista users who rely on the Software Explorer feature in Windows Defender to control programs that start automatically. Fortunately, a free program called AutoRuns provides a good alternative to Software Explorer, as I describe in my April 23 column.