For the past few years, I’ve been personally using and enthusiastically recommending Microsoft Security Essentials as a great free antivirus solution for Windows. After it came out around 2009/2010, it ranked near the top of many independent tests. It was free, easy to use, didn’t bug you to upgrade to a paid version, and didn’t bog down your computer. In short, it was a great product from Microsoft! It eventually became the most popular antivirus software in the U.S and second most popular in the world.
But recently, I stumbled upon an article that said that Microsoft Security Essentials now ranks among the bottom of all antivirus software, even the free ones. I was skeptical, so I did some more research, and multiple reliable sources said the same thing. Howtogeek reports that Microsoft Security Essentials received the lowest possible score of absolute zero from AV-TEST, and came in dead last in several other tests. Heck, even Microsoft itself admitted that Microsoft Security Essentials only provides “baseline” coverage now. Wow!
Apparently, Microsoft neglected this product and let it slip from being one of the best to being one of the worst in its category over the years. I guess it wasn’t a priority for them. What a shame!
What Should I Use Instead?
Several sources recommended Avast! Free Antivirus as a free alternative, so I tried it out.
The installation was easy and in no time it was up and running. The interface is clean, modern, and straightforward to use.
After installing it, I ran a “quick scan” which it turns out, wasn’t so quick. It took a couple of hours to complete on my system. While it was running, it noticeably slowed down my computer. I recommend doing any scans while you’re not working.
Note that within 30 days, you’ll have to register Avast! Free with your name and email address, and a password, but you won’t have to pay anything.
But Is Avast! Free Antivirus Really Better?
Okay, so the reviewers say it’s better, but is it really? Well, I can tell you that after I ran the quick scan using Avast!, it found an infected email that Microsoft Security Essentials missed.
I also ran a full scan, which took all night. Avast! found many more infected files, mostly in deleted email folders and backup zip files. Nothing too threatening, but good to know they’re neutralized anyway.
I know this represents only one data point, but considering the reviews I’ve seen online, I believe this is a much more effective antivirus solution than MSE.
I also read that Microsoft Security Essentials is designed to work best with Internet Explorer 11 (which is not surprising, since they are both Microsoft products). So, if you use another company’s browser like Chrome or Firefox, you are missing out on some antivirus protection if you are using Microsoft Security Essentials.. Yet another reason to switch.
After using Avast! for a while, the only downsides I found are occasional popups on your desktop that advertise paid features. Often these make it sound like something is wrong with your computer. Although I don’t like the interruption, I tolerate these as being the cost of getting a free product. It’s still well worth it in my opinion.
The Bottom Line
While Microsoft Security Essentials is better than no protection, I am no longer recommending it to friends and family, which is why I decided to write this post. I’m not saying you have to use Avast! Almost any other antivirus software will be better than M.S.E. I just like Avast! because they have a free version that works.
If you are running Windows XP, which Microsoft will no longer support with OS security updates, it is doubly important that you get a better antivirus solution than Microsoft Security Essentials (although Microsoft has said they will continue to provide virus updates until July 2015 for older versions of MSE that run on XP).
If you are currently paying for an antivirus software subscription and want to save some money, consider Avast! Free or some of the other free solutions out there (like AVG Free). I haven’t paid for antivirus software in years.
Update: Protection from Ransomware
Ransomware, where a malicious entity encrypts the contents of your hard drive and demands a ransom to unencrypt it, has been on the rise lately. Most people just pay the ransom, unfortunately. To protect against this nasty threat, install RansomFree by Cybereason. This is a free program (Windows only, sorry Mac users) that runs in the background and protects against most ransomeware. It can run alongside Avast or other antivirus software. – Brian