Microsoft Security Essentials Free Antivirus Software

Keep your Windows 7 or Vista PC safe from malware

Microsoft Security Essentials is one of the best free antivirus programs available if you're using an older version of Windows. It's available directly from Microsoft, and it's easy to see if the program protects you as it should.

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

Microsoft Security Essentials
What We Like
  • Provides resident protection from viruses, spyware, and other malware.

  • Virus definitions are updated automatically and regularly.

  • Small download size.

  • Quick and easy to install.

  • Doesn't install unrelated software.

What We Don't Like
  • Doesn't include a silent mode (you might be bothered during gaming).

  • Can't quickly access settings from the notification area icon.

  • The program was last updated in 2016.

  • Can't schedule a Custom scan (just Quick and Full).

  • Signature updates end in 2023.  

Microsoft Security Essentials serves as the onboard virus and anti-malware tool for Windows 7 and Windows Vista. Windows 11, 10, and 8 use Windows Defender.

Microsoft Security Essentials Features

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

  • Fully functional engines to guard against viruses and most other kinds of malware.
  • Presents an easy-to-use, on-demand virus scanner for manual malware checks, or it schedules scans (quick or full) to run daily or on any day of the week, at any specified time of day.
  • Files, locations, file types, and processes can be excluded from scans.
  • Trigger a scan directly from Windows Explorer's right-click menu.
  • A simple green or red indicator makes it easy to see if you're protected or not.
  • View the last time the MSE definitions were updated, as well as the current spyware and virus definition version number.
  • Lets you limit how much of the CPU can be used to run scans, anywhere from 10-100 percent.
  • Archives and removable drives can be set to be scanned in a full scan.
  • Use it to automatically turn on Windows Firewall if no other firewall program is enabled.
  • The History tab keeps a record of quarantined and allowed items so that you can check how the program performs.
  • Choose the default action that MSE takes (for example, to remove or allow the threat) when a threat is identified as having a severe, high, medium, or low alert.
  • Quarantined items can be set up to be deleted automatically or kept forever. If you choose to remove these items after a set time, you can choose from one day later to up to three months later.
  • Use it to create restore points before performing certain actions on detected items.
  • Optionally join MAPS (Microsoft Active Protection Service) to automatically report malware and other unwanted items to Microsoft.
Microsoft Security Essentials settings in Windows 7

Microsoft Security Essentials provides constant virus protection, also called on-access or resident protection, for free. This means it can replace antivirus software from companies like McAfee and Norton that charge for their software and yearly access to updates. However, Microsoft will not provide MSE signature updates forever.

Thoughts on Microsoft Security Essentials

Security Essentials is Microsoft's first attempt at an antivirus program, free or otherwise. Overall, the program works well and performs its task admirably.

One thing that we like about similar programs, that you don't get with this one, is easy access to the program's settings directly from the icon on the taskbar. Ideally, you'd be able to turn off real-time protection temporarily, exit the program, check for an update, etc., from that menu. Instead, the only thing you can do is open the full program window.

Despite the robust nature of the program, MSE is an old solution for out-of-date operating systems. Particularly in high-stress environments, it's better to upgrade to Windows 11 for the latest security updates and features directly from Microsoft.

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