Microsoft has officially unveiled its long-awaited consumer antivirus offering. Formerly code-named “Morro,” it’s now been christened Microsoft Security Essentials, and it will enter public beta testing next week. If you have a licensed copy of Windows XP (Service Pack 2 or above), Windows Vista, or Windows 7, you’ll be able to download and install the software at no additional charge. No subscription is required for ongoing definition updates, either. The final release is scheduled for this fall. (My colleague Mary Jo Foley has more on what beta testers can expect next week.)

The public beta will be limited to 75,000 downloads, Microsoft says, and the targets are global. The initial beta release is limited to the United States, Israel (where a core development team is based), and Brazil. Next month, the beta will open up for users in China. It’s no coincidence that Microsoft is rolling out early in Brazil and China, which are large-scale vectors of malware infections because of the sheer number of Windows users running without antivirus protection. According to Microsoft, barriers to adoption of paid security software are especially high in developing markets, where internet access is slower and credit cards are unavailable to a large percentage of the population.

Microsoft Security Essentials requires validation, which means it won’t be available to anyone using a pirated copy of Windows. But it won’t require registration or personal information of any kind. In an interview last week, Theresa Burch, director of product management for Microsoft Security Essentials, confirmed that decision in no uncertain terms: “We collect no information from you at all,” she told me. No Windows Live ID, nothing. You agree to the EULA, validate, download, and you’re done.”

How good is Microsofts free antivirus software ?

Microsoft's free antivirus software

Over the past few days I’ve been testing recent builds of Microsoft Security Essentials on two machines, one running a 32-bit edition of Windows Vista, the other running a 64-bit copy of the Windows 7 release candidate. The software I describe in this post is a more recent build than the current beta that has been floating around back channels on the Internet.



How good is Microsofts free antivirus software ?