Microsoft Security Essentials

Screenshot of Microsoft Security Essentials v4.10 in Windows 7
MSE for Windows 7.

What We Like

  • Provides resident protection from viruses, spyware and other malware

  • Virus definitions are updated automatically and regularly

  • Small download size

  • Quick and very easy to install

  • Doesn't install any unrelated software

  • Works with Windows 7 and Vista

What We Don't Like

  • Doesn't include a silent mode (so you might be bothered during gaming)

  • Windows XP isn't supported

  • Can't access settings from the notification area icon

Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) is easily one of the best free antivirus program available. We like it because it's produced by Microsoft and because it's really easy to see if the program is protecting you as it should be.

This tool lets you run a quick scan to check for threats in common areas where viruses likes to hide, but you can also run a full scan to check everything or a custom scan to look in specific folders/drives only.

Microsoft Security Essentials provides constant virus protection, also called on-access or resident protection, for free. This means that Microsoft Security Essentials can completely replace antivirus software from companies like McAfee and Norton that charge for their software and for yearly access to updates.

There are inconsistent reports that Microsoft has recommended that people do not use just MSE, but instead use a third-party antivirus tool from another company. For what it's worth, I use MSE on many of my computers and it seems to protect them just fine.

Microsoft Security Essentials Features

Like any antivirus program, MSE has several features to help fight off threats, and does a good job at balancing ease-of-use with functionality.

  • Microsoft Security Essentials can be downloaded for Windows 7 and Windows Vista (Windows Defender is built-in to Windows 10/8)
  • It includes fully functional engines to guard against viruses and most other kinds of malware
  • The program a very easy to use on-demand scanner for manual malware checks
  • Schedules scans (quick or full) can run daily or on any day of the week, at any specified time of day
  • Files, locations, file types, and processes can all be excluded from scans
  • Simple green/red indicator makes it very easy to see if you're protected
  • Microsoft Security Essentials updates regularly to keep its malware knowledge current
  • This antivirus software lets you limit how much of the CPU can be used to run scans; anywhere from 10 percent up to 100 percent
  • Archives and removable drives can be set to be scanned in a full scan
  • You can have MSE automatically turns on Windows Firewall if no other firewall program is enabled
  • View the last time the MSE definitions were updated, as well as the current spyware and virus definition version number
  • Manually force MSE to update whenever you want to check for updates
  • The History tab keeps a record of quarantined and allowed items so that you can check how the program has been performing
  • You get to choose the default action that MSE takes (e.g., to remove or allow the threat) when a threat is identified as having a severe, high, medium, or low alert
  • Restore points can be created automatically before performing certain actions on detected items
  • Quarantined items can be set up to be deleted automatically or kept forever. If you choose to remove them after a set time, you can pick anywhere from one day later to up to three months later

Thoughts on Microsoft Security Essentials

Security Essentials is Microsoft's first attempt at an antivirus program, free or otherwise. Our take: they did an excellent job.

It was super easy to install and even easier to understand and use. Microsoft Security Essentials even trumps most of the popular, expensive antivirus options out there.

It's unfortunate, however, that Windows XP is no longer supported.

Also, I'm a fan of being able to access shortcuts to settings when I right-click the program icon from the Windows taskbar, such as to temporarily stop real-time protection. However, that's not possible with Microsoft Security Essentials. The only thing you can do from there is open the program.

There are two download links on Microsoft's website, and the one you need to pick depends on whether you're running 32-bit or 64-bit Windows. Choose ENUS\amd64\MSEInstall.exe for 64-bit version or ENUS\x86\MSEInstall.exe for 32-bit.