Microsoft Security Essentials has fallen and can’t get up! Is FREE third-party antivirus the way to go?

MSEMicrosoft’s official website still bills Microsoft Security Essentials as offering “comprehensive malware protection” without any hint that they no longer recommend using it.

Microsoft Security Essentials was once on top of the rankings. In 2009, AV-Comparatives.org gave it a very high score and said it was the best-performing free antivirus. It received very good malware detection scores, was extremely speedy, and was free. It wouldn’t hassle you and try to upsell you to paid antivirus solutions, like AVG and avast!. Microsoft Security Essentials was a breath of fresh air — both in its interface and its speedy performance. Its test results showed it was ahead of the pack, so it was best antivirus at the time.

We’ve been recommending Microsoft Security Essentials as the free antivirus to use for years because of this. It’s included by default on Windows 8 and named “Windows Defender.” This is one of the big security improvements in Windows 8 — you have an antivirus included so every Windows user has protection. It would be nice if Windows users finally didn’t have to seek out a third-party antivirus.

The below chart shows Microsoft Security Essentials at the bottom of AV-TEST’s charts for July and August 2013. When it comes to malware protection, it tested below every other antivirus program tested.

Baseline

 

 

 

 

 

The Microsoft Security Essentials website promises “comprehensive malware protection” and “award-winning protection,” so users would be forgiven for believing that Microsoft was committed to making Microsoft Security Essentials a capable antivirus solution. But Microsoft is now saying that Microsoft Security Essentials is only basic protection that users shouldn’t rely on.

Holly Stewart, the senior program manager of the Microsoft Malware Protection Center, said that Microsoft Security Essentials was just a “baseline” that’s designed to “always be on the bottom” of antivirus tests. She said Microsoft sees Microsoft Security Essentials as a first layer of protection and advises Windows users to use a third-party antivirus instead.

Nevertheless, she argues that “baseline does not equal bad” and says they provide a high-quality antivirus. But Microsoft themselves are recommending users not use Microsoft Security Essentials, so it’s hard to take that seriously. This isn’t a product average people should use — it’s better than no antivirus, but not something we should recommend. Microsoft is doing a disservice to its users by telling antivirus testing companies that they don’t recommend Microsoft Security Essentials for average users and telling average users that Microsoft Security Essentials provides them with “comprehensive malware protection” on their website. Microsoft needs to pick one message and stick to it.

If you’re a geek like me, Microsoft Security Essentials and Windows Defender are very usable, you probably shouldn’t recommend Microsoft Security Essentials to your friends or install it on your parents’ computer. Yes, it’s a shame — Microsoft Security Essentials lightweight and hassle-free nature make for a great interface and a faster computer. But the core of an antivirus is the detection engine, and Microsoft appears to be throwing in the towel here.

So What Should You Use? Avast and AVG free has done well in tests, offering comprehensive and free antivirus protection. Unfortunately, it’s heavier than  Microsoft Security Essentials , its interface is more overbearing, and it tries to upsell you to a paid product you don’t really need. But that’s the price we pay for solid antivirus protection.

Is Microsoft Security Essentials good enough or Avast free , AVG free  or any other free third party is what you need?