Microsoft Security Essentials installs quickly on Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7 machines. The free antimalware suite hit the streets yesterday in beta form.

The new software is extremely efficient offering minimal memory and processor usage, even during a full scans. Scans are also relatively quick.  (Source: The Washington Post)
Users will have to wait a bit longer to practice safe computing

Codenamed "Morro", Microsoft's free antivirus software offering has been one of the most anticipated software releases of the year, perhaps only playing second fiddle to Microsoft's own Windows 7.  The release is expected to shake up the security market, which is split currently between pricey offerings, and a handful of free competitors like AVG which assail the user with ads encouraging them to purchase "premium" versions.

Microsoft's new software, named Microsoft Security Essentials, comes without the sticker-shock or ad burden.  It was available yesterday for free download in beta form (read on -- it's no longer available, though).

For its part, Microsoft insists that the software isn't designed to make the antimalware paid software market obsolete.  It insists that its software is primarily for users who currently have no protection.  Indeed, the software lacks many of the bells and whistles that its predecessor, OneCare, had.  Among these omitted features are a dedicated firewall, data backup solution and restore or PC performance tuning.

On the other hand Windows XP (as of Service Pack 2) and Windows Vista already come with firewalls, so for most users the need for a second firewall is questionable (most users have trouble configuring one firewall, let alone two).  And most users don't ever use the data backup or tuning features offered on antimalware suites -- they just are looking for protection against threats.  In that regard, by offering equally strong or even stronger malware protection, Microsoft's new software threatens to make AV consumer software sales obsolete (though vendors may choose to move to Apple, which is a promising new target and offers no such free protection).

The biggest problem with the software?  It was released yesterday and the beta program has already filled up.  Microsoft released a message stating, "Thank you for your interest in joining the Microsoft® Security Essentials Beta. We are not accepting additional participants at this time. Please check back at later a date for possible additional availability."

That said, if you were lucky enough to grab a download, the suite appears to be working more efficiently in some metrics than competitive offerings from Symantec and McAffee.  Even when scanning, the software only used a scant 4 MB of memory in initial tests; processor use was also minimal.  Quick scans take a mere 10 minutes, while a full scan comes in at a competitive 45 minutes, despite the small footprint.  The software strives to perform most of the scanning when the system is idle, and even then maintains a relatively polite footprint.

The software offers real time protection and receives updates of new malware signatures 3 times daily, directly from Microsoft.  Some writers have complained about the fact that the system sends signatures of suspected malware back to Microsoft.  This appears to be nothing more than "big brother" paranoia, though -- outgoing traffic (to Microsoft) on installs is minimal.

One minor hassle is that USB drives are not automatically scanned, though they can be selected by the user.

The new software works on Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7 (both 32-bit and 64-bit versions).  Installation is quick and easy, though there have been some complaints of installation problems on Windows XP Professional installations.  Installs must pass a check by Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage anti-piracy tool, so less savvy pirates are left out of the free AV fun.

"Spreading the rumors, it's very easy because the people who write about Apple want that story, and you can claim its credible because you spoke to someone at Apple." -- Investment guru Jim Cramer

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