Microsoft Security Essentials Free AntiVirus Software

Keep your Windows 7 or Windows Vista computer safe from malware

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).

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

  • Because it supports out-of-date operating systems, it was last updated in 2016.

Microsoft Security Essentials is easily one of the best free antivirus programs 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.

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

This tool conducts quick scans to check for threats in common areas where viruses like to 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 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.

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:

  • Microsoft Security Essentials runs on Windows 7 and Windows Vista (Windows Defender is built-in to Windows 10 and Windows 8).
  • It includes fully functional engines to guard against viruses and most other kinds of malware.
  • The program presents an easy-to-use on-demand 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 all be excluded from scans.
  • A 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. View the last time the MSE definitions were updated, as well as the current spyware and virus definition version number.
  • 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.
  • Use MSE 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 has been performing. 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. 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.
  • Use it to create restore points before performing certain actions on detected items.

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.

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

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 10 with Windows Defender and a defense-in-depth approach using a mix of hardware and software protections.

There are two download options 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.