Microsoft Security Essentials
With support for Windows XP now ending, many people are concerned about whether their computers are still secure. Some of those people will also have been relying on Microsoft Security Essentials to protect their PC, as it's freely available.
The good news is that Microsoft will continue to support the XP version of the software up until July 2015. The bad news is that is was never much cop to begin with, with other free anti-virus options performing far better in our tests, and even a Microsoft employee admitted it was supposed to be a 'baseline' product.
Instead we'd strongly recommend you go for Avast! Free Antivirus 2014. It's easy to use, unobtrusive and offers better cover than other free software, but it still can't match the best paid software for protection, so also strongly consider Kaspersky Internet Security 2014.
If you're still worried about securing your Windows XP PC then you should read When Windows XP support ends, this is how you secure your PC and save all updates.
Microsoft's Security Essentials is an anti-malware package available free to home users of Windows XP, Vista and 7 - it's not available for Windows 8, which comes with an enhanced version of Windows Defender already built in. If you've been following the tech news you'll be forgiven for wondering if it's worth bothering with at all; in September Holly Stewart, Senior Program Manager of the Microsoft Malware Protection Center, told Dennis Technology Labs that the product was merely "a baseline", providing only a first layer of protection. Microsoft subsequently clarified that its "anti-malware solutions provide strong, comprehensive defence against malicious code and attacks".
If such quotes aren't confidence-inspiring, one thing is for certain; Security Essentials has to be the least intrusive antivirus software we've ever tested. We can't remember the last time we even noticed it running on any of our PCs, except that its definitions sometimes appear in the list of available software from Windows Update. In general that's a good thing; it has remarkably little impact on system resources, and is essentially unnoticeable unless it's actually performing a virus scan.
Double-click Security Essentials' discreet notification area icon and you're presented with its simple tab-based interface which, oddly, seems less inspired by Windows' current design than most other modern security software. It's a simple package, with the main tabs giving you basic control of scans and updates, and the settings tab offering slightly more sophisticated options. There's not much advanced control, however, and no extra security features such as file shredders or a registry scanner.
Security Essentials is preconfigured with some sensible defaults, such as a weekly scan scheduled for the small hours which won't run unless the PC is idle. There's also a useful CPU throttle to prevent scans hogging system resources, and the Microsoft Active Protection Service (MAPS), through which users can share threat information with Microsoft with the aim of improving the software's performance.