Microsoft made available to testers this week a new beta build (2.0.522.0) of its next release of Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE), the company's free anti-virus/anti-malware product for Windows.
On November 9, Microsoft began pushing out via Windows Update a "beta refresh" of that product. (One of my readers said this technically is the Release Candidate build of the new MSE, but Microsoft officials are not calling it that publicly.)
Microsoft delivered the first beta of the new MSE in July 2010. At that time, the Softies said the new version would include:
- Windows Firewall integration (allowing users to turn on or off the Windows Firewall during setup)
- Internet Explorer integration for additional protection against Web-based attacks
- An updated anti-malware engine with “enhanced detection and cleanup capabilities with better performance”
- Network inspection system functionality to help fend off network-based exploits
There's a new Microsoft Knowledge Base article out that describes what is part of the MSE beta refresh. According to that article, the refresh includes "improvements to the quality of the product including performance enhancements as well as some user interface modifications." The product team has removed the protection against web threats feature in the Security Essentials Beta "as it was causing PC performance issues," according to the article.
According to WinRumors.com, Microsoft also has added new mechanisms to help thwart Windows 7 activation-bypass hacks. If users running the new MSE on their Windows 7 machines cannot pass Genuine validation and do not resolve the issue, after 30 days, MSE will be disabled, according to WinRumors.
Update: Microsoft is denying that the new beta includes any activation feature changes. From a spokesperson: "Microsoft did not make any changes between v1.0 (SU2 in Feb 2010 to be exact) and the current version of the beta of v2 regarding Microsoft’s genuine check mechanism. Nothing has changed and this is not new."
Microsoft officials -- at least up until today -- have been saying they expect to release the final version of the updated MSE to the Web later this calendar year. (The aforementioned reader said that general availability may not happen until January, 2011.) Microsoft didn't respond when I asked about this officials are now saying MSE 2 will be generally available "when it is ready," and aren't commenting further.
Microsoft released the near-final Release Candidate test version of its paid Windows security product, Forefront Endpoint Protection, at the start of this week. FEP is slated to be released to manufacturing before the end of calendar 2010.
MSE (originally codenamed "Morro") originally was aimed at Windows users who are unwilling and unable to pay for security software. Company officials have said they believed it was worth offering customers a free product to help thwart security breaches on unprotected Windows PCs that potentially could be used to infect other users’ systems.
Since the introduction of the first version of MSE, Microsoft has stepped up its marketing of the product and is now making it available for free to small businesses with 10 or fewer PCs. Some of Microsoft's antivirus/anti-malware partners and competitors have been none to keen on Microsoft's decision to make MSE available via Windows Update.