Microsoft Begins Shipping Free Security Software

Microsoft Tuesday began shipping its free Security Essentials package, with time to spare before its year-end deadline.

The new package replaces Microsoft’s (NASDAQ: MSFT) ill-fated Live OneCare package, which never quite caught on.

Executives decided to cut Live OneCare — part of its Windows Live online services bundle — last fall.

OneCare, which offered maintenance, backup and performance tuning in addition to security, was discontinued at the end of June. Originally codenamed “Morro” and now renamed Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE), the new anti-malware engine is meant to at least partially replace OneCare.

OneCare debuted in January 2007 and received some early accolades but then the trouble started. It was never able to measure up to competing products from companies whose core business is security and antivirus protection.

One advantage that MSE has over OneCare — it’s free, whereas OneCare cost $19.99 for the downloadable version and an average of about $29.67 at retail.

MSE began a limited beta test in late June, and was promised for delivery by the end of the year.

The package is designed to run in the background and to limit its processor and memory usage to, basically, stay out of users’ way while they’re performing common tasks.

“Microsoft Security Essentials uses real-time protection to help prevent PCs from becoming infected, and it is the first Microsoft security product to make use of the company’s new Dynamic Signature Service, a technology that helps ensure users stay protected by the most current virus definitions available without having to wait for the next scheduled download,” according to a Microsoft statement.

While MSE is free, however, the user’s PC still has to pass the Windows Genuine Advantage test in order to make sure the copy of Windows the user is running is legitimate and not pirated or counterfeit.

MSE supports Windows XP, Service Pack 2 and 3 (SP) as well as Windows Vista and Windows 7. It also supports both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of those operating systems, the statement said.

The package is available in eight languages and 19 nations, including Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, the U.K., and the U.S.

MSE can be downloaded via the Security Essentials site Microsoft has set up.

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