Despite Taunts from Rivals, Microsoft Security Essentials is Solid

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What a shock: Execs from major antivirus makers are expressing doubts about Microsoft's Security Essentials.

In interviews with Computerworld's Gregg Keizer, Symantec VP of Engineering Jens Meggers said, "Security Essentials is a poor product" and "the risk on the Web today is far too high for 'basic.' " Meanwhile, Trend Micro's Carol Carpenter told Keizer, "It's better to use something than to use nothing, but you get what you pay for."

I beg to differ. In the age of free software, you can get so much more than you pay for, and with so much bloatware floating about, "basic" can be downright refreshing.

Microsoft's Security Essentials (MSE) is a stripped-down, easy to use, and effective Anti-Virus application written by the very people who know the most about how Windows works. It is now officially out of beta and freely downloadable.

According to Meggers, MSE has "very average detection rates." Frankly, that's just not enough to sway me from recommending MSE to budget-conscious home and small-business users. Detection rates are not the only measure of antivirus effectiveness, and sometimes high detection rates can mean a lot of false positives.

I suppose if you are one of the antivirus big guns trying to sell personal AV protection for between $40-$70 per user, then it makes sense to pack your product to the gills with features so that your customers feel they are getting a good bang for their buck.

However, if you are looking for simple virus protection, MSE is a 4.5MB download with a clean interface and small memory footprint. If you're already fairly smart about using your computer safely, Essentials will likely give you just the amount of protection you need. MSE stays up to date automatically, and can be scheduled to run at any time or interval. It has a handful of other configuration options, but is otherwise straight to the point.

Much of the functionality found in mainstream AV products is redundant, considering that Windows already has a firewall built-in and you're probably behind either your business's or broadband router's firewall. Additionally, most browsers have phishing detection features to help protect Web surfers from being duped.

MSE is also an excellent compliment to Windows 7. Regardless of Microsoft's tattered image regarding security, Windows 7 is a pretty secure OS, and a suite of security apps can do as much to hinder performance as to protect the PC.

Then again, perhaps you're the type of person who blindly opens e-mail attachments, clicks spam ads for cheap Viagra, and follows links from pop-up windows, all while using an outdated browser. If this is the case, then I wholeheartedly recommend Symantec's Norton Internet Security 2010, which will set you back a solid $70.

Michael Scalisi is an IT manager based in Alameda, California.

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