Review: Microsoft Security Essentials antivirus application

Microsoft Security Essentials is the company's foray into the crowded antivirus scanning software market. Justin James reviews it for us.

Microsoft has been working on Security Essentials for quite some time now, their foray into the anti-virus market. Now that it has been released, it is entering a market crowded with other free and commercial virus scanners. Is Microsoft Security Essentials right for you?


  • Supported OS: XP (SP2, SP3), Vista, W7
  • Hardware Requirements: 500MHz CPU, 256MB RAM, 800x600 resolution, 140MB disk space
  • Web Browser: IE 6 or Firefox 2
  • Additional Information: Product Web site
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Who's it for?

Nearly every Windows PC (there are some exceptions) should be using antivirus of one kind or another. Windows users in the search for an antivirus application will appreciate having another option to choose from. Microsoft Security Essentials stands out as one of the few free antivirus solutions available on the Windows platform. If you are not happy with your existing antivirus software, or do not have an application already, Microsoft Security Essentials is aimed at you.

What problems does it solve?

Many, if not most user-level PCs lack antivirus when delivered. By providing a free antivirus solution to its customers, Microsoft hopes to be able to provide "herd immunity" to Windows users. In addition, Microsoft Security Essentials has an easy-to-use interface and a small footprint, making it a pleasure to use in comparison to some of the other antivirus applications out there.

Standout features

  • Cost: Microsoft Security Essentials is free.
  • Lightweight: Early reviews of Security Essentials (including my informal tests) showed it to not use much RAM at all or noticeably impact performance.
  • Made by Microsoft: Virus scanners, by their very nature, tap deeply into the OS, and no one knows the Windows internal workings like Microsoft.

What's wrong?

  • Desktop OS only: Security Essentials will not install on Windows Server.
  • Made by Microsoft: Does Microsoft have the expertise to put together a quality virus scanner? Only time will tell.

Competitive products

Bottom line for business

While the antivirus field is fairly crowded, many users really are not happy with their antivirus solution. It seems like most of the antivirus applications out there are fairly heavyweight, impose performance penalties on the systems, and are often vulnerable to exploits themselves. Microsoft Security Essentials, while being the untested new kid on the block, has the capability of gaining adoption thanks to having Microsoft behind it.

Microsoft Security Essentials is ostensibly aimed at consumers, with the Forefront series designed for enterprise users. If you are willing to forego enterprise class features, like central management and reporting, Microsoft Security Essentials may be a good fit for your business as well. Users in a workgroup style environment will certainly not miss the central management features.

Is Microsoft Security Essentials right for you? It is definitely worth a look. The early buzz on it shows it to be about average on protection, and it is certainly more lightweight than many of its competitors. Its interface and configuration are certainly easy enough to work with, which plays well to its intended audience.

User rating

Have you encountered or used Microsoft Security Essentials? If so, what do you think? Rate your experience and compare the results to what other TechRepublic members think. Give your own personal review in the TechRepublic Community Forums or let us know if you think we left anything out in our review.

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