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Microsoft Security Essentials Free for Small Businesses

Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) will be free for small businesses to use "beginning in early October," Microsoft announced today.

MSE is an antimalware solution that is designed to protect against viruses and spyware on Windows-based PCs. Currently, MSE is a free solution for consumer users of Windows operating systems. Microsoft will extend that free antimalware protection to small businesses next month, provided that the organization has 10 or fewer PCs.

The free offer depends on users having "genuine" Windows licensing in place. Microsoft remotely runs a check of the user's computer for a genuine copy of Windows before allowing the MSE installation to take place.

MSE lacks centralized management control and other security features that IT pros may require. However, it also has benefits for the "set it and forget it" crowd. The software runs in the background with little interaction required by the end user. It alerts the user only when a threat has been detected, but otherwise it conducts antimalware scans quietly.

According to a report by competing security solution provider Symantec, hackers have already attempted to create false alerts, imitating those of MSE. The idea is that users will trust those alert screens, click a button and unwittingly drop malware on their PCs.

The MSE program lacks many of the "bell and whistles" found in other antimalware solutions and has a simplified user interface. An MSE panel shows "good" security conditions with the green color, whereas yellow and red colors indicate that an action is required by the user, according to Theresa Burch, director of product management for Microsoft Security Essentials, in a video.

Burch claims that MSE puts less of a burden on the PC's system than other antimalware solutions. For that reason, MSE will work well on older Windows operating systems, she explained. MSE runs on PCs using Windows XP, Windows Vista or Windows 7.

The simplified green, yellow and red scheme was used by Microsoft earlier when it offered a subscription-based PC security and maintenance service for individuals and small business users called "Windows Live OneCare." Microsoft announced its decision to end the OneCare service back in November 2008, but that same month it described an antimalware initiative code-named "Morro," replacing OneCare. Morro was supposed to provide protection for Windows users in poorer regions that could not afford to pay for antimalware protection.

Elements of the two projects, OneCare and Morro, came together as MSE, which Microsoft released in September 2009. The novel idea, for Microsoft, was that ensuring software security protection for consumers also ensured a positive Windows user experience. However, the company abandoned being altruistic altogether by insisting on the genuine Windows licensing precondition. Users in developing countries with pirated Windows copies are out of luck and don't get MSE protection against malware.

MSE initially stumbled out of the gate as an antimalware solution when it was first released, with not very good test results. Since that time, the one-year-old product has gained respectability in independent antimalware tests. Last month, independent tester AV-Test gave MSE a passing grade running on Windows 7. Competing solutions from well-known software security firms, such McAfee Internet Security 2010 and Trend Micro Internet Security Pro 2010, failed those same tests.

MSE was developed by the same team that produces the Microsoft Forefront security products, a suite of applications designed for enterprise use.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is online news editor for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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