I have been a user of AVG Free Anti-virus for years now but the latest version had started to irritate me. I found it unreliable and had to re-install several times in the last few months and this is before you get to the fact that the advert telling you to upgrade to the full version is not only bigger but pops up on the desktop on start-up every so often.
On Monday night it broke again and I decided I had had enough. I had heard that Microsoft are releasing a free anti-virus package this year and the beta is already available to download (though officially limited to certain countries there are download mirrors) and all it requires is that your copy of windows passes validation.
So what is Microsoft Security Essentials like? Is it a suitable replacement for AVG? Well I don’t have the technology to test if it can keep you safe, though early reviews suggest that it comes fairly high up the AV league table, but I can say what it is like for a user.
The download is small, only 4MB in size, there is a native 64bit version available if, like me, you have upgraded  and the install is relatively quick. After installing it does check for updates and (only on this first occasion) this does take some time. This makes sense as there is no point in bundling the definitions in the installer if they are going to be out of date by the time you install anyway.
Once done you can have a proper look at the interface. It is very simple and easy to understand, but with that comes the fact that the configuration options are somewhat limited compared to some security packages, though there is more than enough for most peoples needs and probably more options than in AVG Free. The interface is split across 4 tabs and above these is a simple indication showing you are protected (or not) The first tab (home) lets you do a quick, full or custom (chose locations) scan, once installed Microsoft Security Essentials also adds a “scan this file” to the explorer context menu so you don’t have to open the interface to scan a single file or folder. The update tab you will probably never use as the updates come through windows update along with your OS updates, should you wish to manually check for updates or have a look at when it was last updated though, this is the place to do it. The next tab is called History, and is similar to AVG’s Virus Vault, any infected files will be shown here along with the action that was taken.
The final tab is Settings and does what it says on the tin. Most of it is self explanatory but I think that they may have gone slightly too far in trying to make it simple to use, the most obvious example of this is the default actions where it lets you decide what should be done with various threats. This is fine except that the default action for all of them is “recommended action” but it doesn’t tell you what the recommended action actually is. Obviously there are other actions to chose from but what I would have done is left out the recommended setting and just put an asterisk by the one that is recommended and have that as default, if you have looked at the advanced video settings in a Source engine game you will know what I mean. The scheduler, which is also found on this tab, is basic, but far better than the one in AVG Free which only allows you to set the time of the daily scan. If I’m honest you don’t really need more than Microsoft Security Essentials provides, as selecting a day and time is more than enough (daily is also an option).
No AV product will keep you completely safe if you are careless, but for a free one this seems to be pretty good. I do wonder if antitrust lawsuits will be on their way from Symantec and or McAfee…
I will do a follow up to this after I have used the program for a few weeks but my first impressions of it are very good and I am hopeful Microsoft have learnt where they went wrong with One Care . If, in the meantime you want to give it a go, you can download the beta from softpedia.com.
UPDATE: I forgot to update this when I said. The reason? Microsoft Security Essentials simply blends into the background most of the time, the updates come down with windows update (about 4MB a day, but I expect that will change when it is out of beta). The only thing it has done other than update and scan is to ask if I wanted to send an unknown program (the latest version of Fences by Stardock) to Microsoft for analysis. I accepted so I guess no one else will get that prompt for that program. Yep, it has definitely convinced me that my switch from AVG was a good thing.
 I have 6 GB of DDR3 RAM and want to be able to use it, besides Vista 64 is as reliable as the 32bit version now the drivers are sorted.
 Other than the fact they charged money for One Care.