Microsoft’s antivirus program, Windows OneCare Live, is now open for general beta testing by anyone running Windows XP with Service Pack 2. Go to the Live.com web site (http://ideas.live.com/) and click on Windows OneCare Live Beta / Sign Up.

This is a potentially huge development that will eventually affect almost every computer user. Stop buying Norton Antivirus and McAfee VirusScan. As of today, the world has changed.

BACKGROUND

Symantec, McAfee, and other antivirus vendors have dropped the ball.

  • Security suites from the antivirus vendors became prevalent a few years ago. They were poorly designed; their components were difficult to configure, unnecessarily complex, and tended to generate countless windows demanding attention.
  • When adware and spyware became a scourge at the end of 2003, the antivirus vendors pretended it was not their problem and offered no protection to us for more than a year. This was unforgivable; it was their job to protect us against unwanted software running on our computer.
  • The suites now purport to protect against adware and spyware, but they are bloated and buggy, causing systems to slow down and crash.
  • It’s instructive that it was an independent researcher that discovered and publicized the rootkit installed by Sony CDs – not Symantec, not McAfee. It’s still unclear a month later whether Symantec or McAfee software will remove the Sony malware.

For several years, Microsoft has aggressively worked on improving the security of Windows computers. Even skeptics grudgingly admit that Microsoft appears to be dead serious about making Windows secure.

Microsoft saw something that the antivirus vendors missed: Most people want their computers to be safe, but they do not want to pay attention to security programs. Microsoft has focused on making security programs that are simple and unobtrusive.

Windows OneCare Live represents a major commitment by Microsoft to assume responsibility for all of our computer security issues.

WINDOWS ONECARE LIVE

Windows OneCare Live combines several functions:

  • It is an antivirus program.
  • It is a backup program. If you have an external hard drive, it will automatically do backups. It will otherwise prompt you periodically to back up to blank CDs or DVDs.
  • It takes over management of the Windows Firewall.
  • It periodically tunes up the system by removing temporary files, defragging the hard drive, running a virus scan, and double-checking for updates to Windows and Office files.

Every bit of it is designed to be simple! It requires as little intervention and as few clicks as possible.

Microsoft Antispyware is currently a separate program that should be installed alongside Windows OneCare Live. It is also designed to be simple and not call attention to itself unnecessarily.

It’s anticipated that Windows OneCare Live will absorb the antispyware protection soon, gathering all the security functions into one place.

INSTALLING WINDOWS ONECARE LIVE

  • For a short time, Windows OneCare Live is free. When the beta testing ends, Microsoft will charge an annual fee which has not been announced yet.
  • If you have a current subscription to an antivirus program, and you are happy with it, you do not have to rush to replace it. But the simple, free backup program should be in everyone’s thoughts.
  • If your business runs server-based antivirus software, you should not make any changes. Windows OneCare Live does not protect servers and cannot be centrally administered; Microsoft is working on server-based software due next year. Wait to hear from your network administrator before doing anything yourself.
  • You have to remove all traces of your current antivirus software before installing Windows OneCare Live. Use Control Panel / Add-Remove Programs and restart your system.
  • Start doing backups. Buy an external hard drive and attach it to a USB port on your computer. Don’t install the software supplied with the hard drive. Windows OneCare Live will identify the drive and begin automatic backups.

I am optimistic. I have been using Windows OneCare Live for two months now and it has lived up to this hype. The price is irrelevant: in 2005, we are discovering to our regret that the right software or hardware is worth any price; cheap stuff that doesn’t work or gets in the way is not a bargain.

Let’s make 2006 the year that security takes less of our time so we can go back to having fun with these wonderful machines. Good luck – and be safe out there!