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McAfee vs. Microsoft Security Essentials: Free Virus Detectors

In a side-by-side comparison of Microsoft Security Essentials vs. McAfee Security Scan Plus, both offer downloadable freeware that will scan a PC for viruses, spyware and malware. Each runs silently in the background, and both allow you to schedule scans. When it's free vs. free antivirus software and you don't have any skin in the game, other deciding factors come into play. That's certainly the case with McAfee vs. Microsoft Security Essentials.

McAfee's free download gives you three alert options: an immediate scan, cancellation of a prescheduled scan or a reminder to schedule a scan for a later time. On the other hand, Microsoft Security Essentials automatically runs scheduled daily updates, which are preset to occur every 24 hours. Since these might be missed if your computer is not on, or if it doesn't have an active internet connection, a fix that involves creating a task rule in Windows to ensure proper updates occur in a timely manner is advisable. This does require some manual adjustments to the settings. However, ignoring the problem   particularly if your computer is off during the set scanning time for several days in a row   might result in missing important updates that protect your computer against the latest viral threats.

On the reputation front, McAfee took a hit in 2010 following a botched virus-definition file update that caused, by some estimates, millions of computers to lose network connectivity due to the loss of a system file. The company offered refunds to users following the debacle.

The Microsoft Corporation is also a company motivated to protect its reputation, following revelations of unpatched security holes in Internet Explorer. Microsoft has an obvious self-interest in distributing free malware-detection software in order to curb the spread of viruses that grab headlines.

One distinction between the two companies' freeware is in the size of the software files. McAfee Security Scan Plus is one megabyte in size, while Microsoft Security Essentials is seven times as large.

When McAfee Security Scan Plus shows an alert warning that malware is present, the software automatically starts a scan in 60 seconds. The McAfee website claims that scans do not slow down a user's computer.

Some Microsoft Security Essentials users have complained of slowdowns while running the software. The Microsoft website says that one cause of slowdowns may be from having too many antivirus software applications installed on a single computer.

When considering McAfee vs. Microsoft Security Essentials, it's important to realize that both leave one task undone: cleaning malware from your computer. For that task, you may choose to download Microsoft Windows Malicious Software Removal tool via the Microsoft Download Center. However, according to Microsoft's website, this tool will only remove a small subset of all the malware in circulation.

Regardless of the merits of McAfee vs. Microsoft Security Essentials, maintaining vigilance and being aware of the tactics that hackers most commonly use can prevent many infections by malicious code. Hackers want crowds, and one way to gain the following they crave is to ensnare internet users through search terms tied to popular events. Another way is by posting lyrics to popular songs. Remember to think twice before you hit the download button.

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