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Screenshots from the new Microsoft Security Essentials, a free software suite which will be released in beta form Tuesday on Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7, show the software's output when it detects no malware (above) and when it detects threats (below).  (Source: Microsoft)
Priced at free, this one should be a hot seller

Microsoft is putting consumer antivirus makers on notice Tuesday, when it will release the beta of its Microsoft Security Essentials, a new anti-malware suite.  Unlike its predecessor, Live OneCare suite, a subscription service which is being phased out, the new software will be offered for free to consumers.

Like traditional antivirus software, the new software detects changes to the file system resulting from operations such as copies, installs, or downloads.  If the file signature matches a known threat, the operation is blocked and the user is warned.  

The new service features dynamic communication with Microsoft's Dynamic Signature Service, which update the malware signature list regularly.  It also request copies of code that it suspects may be a new piece of malware.  Alan Packer, general manager of Microsoft's Anti-Malware team says the service publishes new signatures three times daily.

He describes, "The hope is that people who install Security Essentials and enable auto updates in their Windows configuration will be protected.  We don't see Security Essentials as a direct competitor to other free products and suites.  We're targeting people who aren't protected (already)."

The service is also designed for efficiency, running major scans when the computer is idle and saving memory during times of active use.  Mr. Packer suggests users with an antivirus program skip the new software, which could interfere with the third party AV software.  Unlike its non-free competitors and the former OneCare suite, the new service will not provide managed firewalls, performance-tuning, backup and restore, printer-sharing and multi-PC management.

AVG, maker of the current most widespread antivirus freeware, also does not offer these features, but says its software is still better than Microsoft's.  It says that its products can work on a variety of OS's, not just Windows, and that unlike Microsoft it was founded as a dedicated security company. 

The new Microsoft software will run on Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7 computers.  It currently supports English and Portuguese (in support of a deployment in Brazil).  A Simplified Chinese language version will be released later in the year.

According to a discussion with CNET, Microsoft doesn't have big plans to offer similar services for its upcoming Windows Mobile 7, for smart phones.  States Mr. Packer, "In general, the way we look at mobile from a security standpoint is that you are better off preventing the malware from getting on a mobile device rather than trying to run anti-malware or antivirus software.  We haven't targeted mobile antivirus software because we felt that's not the right approach."





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