Someone over at Microsoft must watch a lot of hockey, because it’s the only way to explain the company’s recent hat trick. First there was Bing, the much-improved “decision” engine that replaced Live Search. Then Windows 7 launched, atoning for Vista. Now we have Microsoft Security Essentials, one of the latest entries into the field of AV, and another winning product from Microsoft.
Essentials scored points with us right off the bat with its supersonic 10-second install time. Even after downloading the latest update, we still hadn’t invested more than a minute or so of our time. And while Vista, Internet Explorer, and other Microsoft software made it easy at times to rag on Redmond for poor resource management, there would be none of that with Essentials, which disappeared quietly into the background.
Microsoft's no-fuss approach to security means there isn't a whole lot for power users to tinker with.
When it came time to test Essentials, we checked our expectations at the door but were nevertheless pleasantly surprised. Essentials sailed through our synthetic spyware and virus testing without so much as flinching and fared equally well at thwarting our attempts to inflict damage with genuine payloads.
Microsoft did leave plenty of room for improvement, however; most notably in the swiftness of the scan engine, or lack thereof. Scanning just 60GB of data took nearly 17 minutes, and that time never improved with subsequent sweeps. That’s more than five times longer than it took AntiVir—the only other freebie AV app in this roundup—to sift through the same files.
We’d also like to see Microsoft offer power users more fine-grain control over the settings. The basics are there, like setting up scheduled scans, and you can choose whether or not to enable real-time protection. You can even tell Essentials to skip certain files and locations. But good luck trying to dig any deeper than that. For instance, you’re not able to configure the real-time module to act more aggressively if there’s a virus outbreak going around, like the Conficker scare, nor dial things down if it starts picking up too many false positives.
These are minor quibbles when you consider that Essentials won’t tax your wallet or your system, while still getting the job done. If you’re a gamer who’d rather spend $60 on a triple-A title than security software, does anything else really matter?