Microsoft Security Essentials – A Second Look


Microsoft Security Essentials fails AV-Test Certification

Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) has once again failed the AV-Test Certification for the second month running. This is not good news.

A few years back I dropped Anti-virus from Grisoft (AVG) in favor of MSE. The reason I made that choice was two-fold: AVG became bloated and MSE seemed to be a good alternative given its inherent integration with Windows and its good protection reputation. I’m sorry to say the latter is no longer true.

Perhaps I should mention what I mean by ‘bloated’. I personally like programs that do one thing and do it well. Most anti-malware programs these days seem to try to do it all, ultimately calling themselves Internet Suites of some sort. They combine Anti-virus, along with spyware detection, e-mail scans, safe browsing monitors, PC tune-up options, firewalls, and my most-hated of all, the dreaded tool bar add-ons. I really dislike all that fluff.

Some of you may argue that it is good to have all those features bundled into one program. I have to disagree on the grounds that a dedicated program has its focus on one thing and not many. By trying to do too much I feel these packages do a poorer job at all the things they are trying to accomplish.

Here’s a little background for the uninitiated. AV-Test is an independent organization that monitors several malware programs on a monthly basis at which time they report on their findings. They use three criteria: protection, repair abilities and usability,. Ultimately they also decide whether to certify these programs based on their individual scores.


MSE not only failed again this last month but landed at the very bottom of the protection list. Not good… In light of two-months worth of terrible scores I decided to take a second look at the programs that did score well. I wanted something free and familiar– I didn’t want a huge learning curve so I chose an old familiar (to me at least) program called AVG Free. Yep– no trial period, free updates and I believe there is actually some free support available as well.

If you would like to see the full list of results and how they ranked, head on over to the AV-Test web site.

Anti-virus Grisoft


AVG has always been a highly-rated malware detection program. I used it for years before moving over to MSE. Prior to the recent MSE fiasco, I used MSE for the past couple years or so. If you checked out the AV-Test list you will see that AVG rated a strong 5.0 out of a possible 6.0. MSE, on the other hand rated a paltry 1.5 and didn’t even rate a certification.

I don’t really want to turn this into a tutorial on AVG but I feel I should mention a few things about it’s installation and set up.

I’ll begin by giving a heads-up on the bloatware situation and a few settings to which I believe you should pay particular attention.

AVG Installation

Like all companies that offer free versions of their software their ultimate goal is to get you to buy the paid version. In this regard AVG is no different.

During the installation process you will be offered a choice of Express or Custom. I don’t care what program you are installing, I always recommend using a custom installation if it is offered. This gives you mostly complete control of not only where the programs are installed but also some important individual settings. This is all important if you are as nit-picky as I when it comes to my machine. I want to know where everything is and what it’s doing at all times.

Having chosen the Custom Option, somewhere along the way you will be shown a screen like this:


You see what I’m talking about? Default search provider? Home Page? Dreaded Toolbar? No thank you very much. These so-called services are just a pain in the neck as far as I am concerned.

Setup and Using AVG

After installation you will be shown the main interface:


Remember I mentioned about how publishers’ ultimate goal is to get you to buy? Well, if you click anything in the second row, you will be prompted to pay for something. Also, the Firewall option is a cash-requesting button as well. You are free to experiment, of course.

Thankfully, the Settings Menu allows you to enable or disable any of the services you see above.

The important thing here is that you go to the Settings Menu and get a proper schedule going. You can reach that by clicking on Options then choosing Advanced Settings. That will bring you here:


Perhaps not this particular window but this is what I would like to focus on for the moment. Scheduling. It is of utmost importance to get everything set up here just the way you like it. Drill through every option in the Settings Menu and don’t forget to click that Apply button when you make your changes and before moving on to the next setting.

At the very least, you want to tell AVG when and how often to update its definition database, Without current definitions you are wasting your time. Schedule a daily scan as well. The scan doesn’t have to include your whole system but should include your System Drive and Programs/Utilities/Drivers.



If you chose to include a desktop gadget during the custom installation you will also have quick access to manual scans and updates. Maybe I’m just old, but I happen to like gadgets. I was truly dismayed when I heard that Microsoft was about to discontinue what I consider to be useful tools. I also happen to think they look pretty cool.

Nevertheless, I’ll probably be removing this particular one as everything you need for AVG is available by right-clicking the icon that is placed in your System Tray– down by the clock in your task bar.




Final Thoughts

If you are still using MSE at this point, I would strongly suggest that you take a look at the AV-Test site and choose a different malware option. I chose AVG because I was familiar with it and we all like familiarity, after all. That old saw, “Familiarity breeds contempt”, does not apply to software– quite the opposite. Perhaps “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” is more applicable in this case.

The ones on that list that score the best are generally commercial programs and require you to spend some hard-earned cash. There are many free, quality programs available to choose from, however.

If you haven’t used any of them before now, then go to each site and check out their respective feature lists. Try to avoid the multipurpose Internet Suites. My experience with them has been poor. Try to find a program that suits your needs and no more.

Keep it simple,


About the Author

Richard Pedersen

Richard received his first computer, a C-64, in 1982 as a gift and began dabbling in BASIC. He was hooked! His love for computing has led him from the old “XT” boxes to the more modern fare and from clunky 10MB hard drives to smooth and fast modern day SSD drives. He has run BBS services, Fido mail, and even operated his own computer repair business.

There are 17 comments

Comments are closed.