Microsoft Security Essentials or Forefront: Which should a Windows user choose?

Microsoft Security Essentials or Forefront: Which should a Windows user choose?

Summary: It's been a while since Microsoft has shared any new information about its free antimalware offering, Microsoft Security Essentials (codenamed "Morro"). But the Softies are quietly setting the stage for the product, which is slated to launch before the end of the year.

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It's been a while since Microsoft has shared any new information about its free antimalware offering, Microsoft Security Essentials (codenamed "Morro"). But the Softies are quietly setting the stage for the product, which is slated to launch before the end of the year.

A quick refresher: MSE is the replacement for Windows Live OneCare and a superset of Windows Defender. Microsoft officials have said it is meant for consumers who are unwilling or unable to pay for security software. A number of Microsoft watchers are expecting the final version of MSE to debut in October, given that it is meant to work on XP, Vista and Windows 7 -- and Windows 7 launches on October 22. More than 400,000 testers have downloaded the test version of MSE, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft has another client-based security offering, its Forefront Client package -- which, as of early September, supported Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 (but not yet the server core offering). There's a new version (part of its "Stirling" family), which is currently in its second beta release and expected to launch in final form in the first half of 2010. The final name for the new release will be  "Forefront Endpoint Protection 2010."

While the core engine of MSE is the same as what's in Forefront client, Forefront also provides security management capabilities that aren't in MSE, such as group policy control, NAP integration and integrated host-firewall management. Unlike MSE, Forefront client is not free; Microsoft is selling the product for $12.72 per user or device per year, according to a chart on its Web site. (It's not clear whether this also will be the price for the new version next year.)

Microsoft is pitching Forefront client as its security offering for business users of any size, from the smallest business to the largest enterprise. It is pitching MSE as being for consumers and not designed for business use.

Here's Microsoft's positioning chart, comparing the two offerings. (Click on it to enlarge.)

Forefront is one of Microsoft's big bets, with the team launching over the next few months a variety of product and service updates. (Here's a Microsoft-provided Forefront roadmap describing which components are coming when.)

Microsoft made the decision to combine its security and identity teams a year and a half ago, based on the realization that the majority of attacks (86 percent, according to Microsoft's research) were happening at the application and data levels, rather than the operating-system level.

"We need protection to be more identity-aware, and access to be more security aware," said John "JG" Chirapurath, a Director in Microsoft's Identity and Security Business Group. The idea is "protect eveyrwhere and access anywhere, from on-premise or in the cloud."

I continue to get a lot of questions about MSE pricing and availability from business users, leading me to wonder whether budget pressures might end up playing a big role in terms of which security product customers who plan to use Microsoft's offerings end up choosing. Any business users out there testing MSE? Does its lack of management capabilities -- or anything else about the product -- make it a nonstarter for you?

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

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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27 comments
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  • Free for business use?

    Interesting... According to this table, MCE can be used in servers (2008 R2) and, since there is nothing in contrary, it seems that is also free for use by businesses - most of the other free offerings (Avast, AVG...) are only free for non-commercial use.
    Tony Barbarella
    • One reader just sent me this via e-mail

      "Microsoft Security Essentials is NOT supported for businesses of any kind. Not only that, but it is licensed for consumer use only, and carries similar license wording to Office Home & Student. Commercial or for-profit institutions must pay for the software. AVG and Avast have similar licensing."

      I will ask MSFT if he is right. For now, all I can say is the person who sent is a MS partner and usually has good info to pass along... MJ
      Mary Jo Foley
      • Windows 2008 R2 Support

        If that's the case, why in the third row of the table it mentions that Windows Server 2008 R2 is supported?
        dvm
        • It's not accurate

          MSSE is not supposed to be supported on servers. FCS is installable on file servers (only - not DC's, not TS's, not VM hosts, etc.), but both support Windows 7. The chart is a bit misleading because Win7 and Srv2008R2 is grouped together.

          In fact, Windows Server 2008 R2 is NOT supported by FCS server components - only the client components (ie. the workstation agent). FCS server components require a 32-bit OS, and Server 2008 R2 is only available as 64-bit. The next version of FCS (Forefront Endpoint Security) will *probably* support Windows Server 2008 R2 as a server installation, but Microsoft hasn't announced system requirements so that's up in the air for now.
          Joe_Raby
      • For-profit

        Does that imply that it's OK for non-profits?

        Avira Free doesn't seem to be: "The Licensee may only use the Software for strictly private purposes. Institutes of education and public utilities are classed as commercial or business premises." AVG Free seems to agree: "The use of AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition within any organization or for commercial purposes is strictly prohibited."
        rseiler
  • RE: Microsoft Security Essentials or Forefront: Which should a Windows user choose?

    I am currently beta testing MSE and it works quite well. I have had it stop malware from installing itself in real time and it does a good job scanning my computer. The interface is very simple. A good feature is that it will notify people to update the descriptor files more often, about every 3 or 4 days.
    sboverie
  • RE: Microsoft Security Essentials or Forefront: Which should a Windows user choose?

    Appreciate your updated information MJ!

    We here, having recommended Live One Care and all it's features to many of our small business clients, think that Microsoft has stubbed their toes once more. Twenty five of our clients have had one year subscriptions expire while awaiting MSE exiting beta. A high percentage of them were three to four year subscribers and quite dismayed that the program was discontinued in June '09. Many have chosen to purchase other Security Suites while Microsoft deliberates it's next move.

    Our further opinion here:

    http://techbuyer.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!58B676A515A4710!900.entry
    CustomComputers
  • Until it is tested against the likes of Nod32...

    Until MCE is tested thoroughly against the top products from others, I'll continue to pay the minimal price for top-tier products and ignore Microsoft...
    BillDem
    • Thought it had been

      In fact, I thought it passed the VB100. Or was that OneCare?

      Either way, I'm testing it. I don't need anything on the clients except a good AV/antispyware/rootkit program (and to me all these *should* be caught by one program).

      Give me the steak, hold the pricy gravy. :)
      wolf_z
      • You're right...

        It was OneCare, but it's the same scanning/detection engine and definitions. Different interface.
        GoodThings2Life
    • MSE vs. other products

      I'm using MSE and keeping my fingers crossed. I guess one just has to trust it as much as possible. If there's any "infection" going around, I would imagine we'd hear about it sooner or later - preferably sooner. I don't see why it should be any better or worse than any other solution out there.
      Ross Snowden
    • NOD32 is not the best

      In AV-Comparative's May testing, OneCare came out #2 in detections (only below Kaspersky) and #1 in false positives (having the least). NOD32 has slipped positions steadily since the review where OneCare was rated badly, and now OneCare came out on top.

      The engine that they use in OneCare is the same as in Forefront Client Security, and the same in Microsoft Security Essentials, as are the definitions. They are all updated on par, daily. Even Defender, which is only antispyware, has the same antispyware definitions as the others. So if OneCare scores highest overall (Kaspersky was very bad in false detections), so is MSSE, and so is FCS.
      Joe_Raby
      • Not quite

        The May test was only the second half of the testing. The first half came in February. Each test was for different aspects: May being the "proactive" test, meaning newish threats, while February was established threats. It did horribly for detection there.
        rseiler
      • Avira is the best

        If I am not mistaken Avira is the best product on the market today. I believe that Avira posted #1 in the last 5 test done on av-comparatives.org, very low in footprint, picks up a lot of malware and built with AHeAD Technology. Free version does not cover web protection. You get what you pay for. Give it a try and you won't be disapointed
        DSolution
  • RE: Microsoft Security Essentials or Forefront: Which should a Windows user choose?

    I'm testing MSE on several personally owned, non-domain PCs. I'm very satisified with its operation, particularly the small footprint and unobtrusive operation. However, the lack of management features will keep me from using it in the business where I manage about 30 client PCs. I need to be able to easily verify that the AV on the client PCs is running and up to date, and MSE isn't made for that.

    I'd be interested in hosted Forefront, or a version sized appropriately for small business. Last time I looked into Forefront, it seemed more appropriate for enterprise than small business.
    1DaveN
  • RE: Microsoft Security Essentials or Forefront: Which should a Windows user choose?

    Search BING "MSE head to head with Nod32" the second entry comments that the beta caught a Trojan Downloader NOD32 missed. If pre-beta can do that then I'm sure the final version will be able to do more. At a cost of free and a super small footprint and not restricting the life out of your computer I would have to say is a very big plus.
    audidiablo
  • RE: Microsoft Security Essentials or Forefront: Which should a Windows user choose?

    Mary Jo, Do you know if they plan on creating a MSE Firewall. I too used OneCare and it was great for Antivirus and Firewall. This is only one part of the bundle.
    Djblois
    • Unless you're on XP, what do you need the extra firewall for?

      [nt]
      jmiller1978
  • Forefront Endpoint Protection? Sounds like...

    Symantec Endpoint Protection. MS might want to consider a name change being that this would be a competing product.

    On another note, I've been a beta tester of MSE on Windows 7 and as a prior owner of OneCare, I love MSE. The small footprint and exclusion of an extra firewall and backup solution is great.
    jmiller1978
  • RE: Microsoft Security Essentials or Forefront: Which should a Windows user choose?

    If I understand Forefront, it requires a dedicated server (which currently can't be 64-bit), running SQL Server. That seems unlikely to work for very small businesses, 25 desks or less. Too much management and cost for too little reward. I expect MSE to be a big hit for very small offices.

    Bruce Berls
    www.bruceb.com/news
    Valisystem