Microsoft Security Essentials: What wannabe testers need to know

Summary:Microsoft finally broke its silence about its Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) -- a k a "Morro" -- June 18, after refusing for months to provide any real details on its planned free consumer security replacement to Windows Live OneCare. Here's what wannabe MSE testers and customers need to know.

Microsoft finally broke its silence about its Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) -- a k a "Morro" -- June 18, after refusing for months to provide any real details on its planned free consumer security replacement to Windows Live OneCare.

Alan Packer, General Manager of Microsoft's Anti-Malware team chatted with me today about MSE. Based on our conversation, here's what wannabe MSE testers and customers need to know:

  • MSE provides antivirus and anti-malware protection for Windows XP SP2, Windows Vista and Windows 7 (including Beta or Release Candidate) systems. It makes use of the same core engine as the Forefront Client product Microsoft offers to businesses, but it doesn't provide the management capabilities that the paid Forefront Client -- or the former Windows Live OneCare subscription offering do.
  • Microsoft is making MSE available for public beta testing starting some time on June 23. It will be available in 32- and 64-bit flavors, downloadable from the Microsoft Connect site. The test version is targeted at users in English-speaking countries, plus Brazil, Israel (and some time later this year), China (in simplified Chinese).
  • The beta will remain open until the final version of the MSE product is released before the end of calendar 2009. (Microsoft officials won't provide any more specific of a date target than that.) The final product will be a free download available directly from Microsoft.com.
  • Microsoft will be updating and refreshing the beta code regularly in the coming months by pushing updates over Windows Update and other Web mechanisms. MSE isn't Microsoft-hosted, but it does include a Dynamic Signature updating service that Microsoft is touting as "cloud-based."
  • Microsoft plans to offer PC OEMs and system builders the option to bundle MSE on new PCs, but it isn't expecting any of the big PC makers to jump, since they currently make money by preloading competing, paid offerings from third-party providers.
  • Speaking of third-party products, MSE will uninstall Windows Defender if it is present on a user's PC, as MSE is a "superset" of Defender. Upon setup, MSE also will advise users to uninstall other third-party offerings, as running multiple antivirus/anti-malware offerings degrades PC performance.
  • MSE is aimed first and foremost at users who either can't or won't pay for antivirus/anti-malware software. There will be no registration required, no trials with an expiration date or required renewals. But Microsoft is restricting the MSE download (both the beta and final) to PCs running Genuine Windows (which has been authenticated as non-pirated).

Matt Rosoff, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, wondered whether the Windows Genuine stipulation might prove problematic.

MSE "looks like an adequate protection product, similar to Defender but for more types of malware. However, from early screenshots, it looks like they're going to require Windows Genuine validation for use," Rosoff noted. "That seems to undercut their stated goal with the product: to broaden the base of Windows PCs protected against malware, especially in developing countries."

For more in-depth coverage (and screen shots galore) of what MSE is and how it works, check out my ZDNet blogging colleague Ed Bott's gallery and coverage.

So now that we finally know more (official) specifics about MSE/Morro, what do you think? Is Microsoft doing users a service or disservice in trying to secure the perimeters of the Windows ecosystem via a free antivirus/antimalware product like this?

Topics: Security, Hardware, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software, Windows

About

Mary Jo Foley has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications, including ZDNet, eWeek and Baseline. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008). She also is the cohost of the "Windows Weekly" podcast on the TWiT network. Got a tip? Se... Full Bio

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