Windows Defender Beta 2

The new Beta 2 version of Microsoft's free Windows Defender anti-spyware software adds significant new features, but it is not yet glitch-free. (Courtesy: InternetWeek)

March 6, 2006

3 Min Read
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Last month, Microsoft released a major upgrade of its free anti-spyware software program. Previously known as Microsoft AntiSpyware, Microsoft has renamed the utility Windows Defender. The Beta 2 version of it is available on this Microsoft page.

Whatever you call it, this is a significant upgrade. Windows Defender offers a new detection-and-removal spyware engine, an increased number of Windows monitoring points it watches for possible spyware symptoms, a heavily streamlined user interface, fewer pop-ups from its real-time protection asking for user input, and protection for all Windows user accounts. It runs on Windows 2000, Windows Server 2003, and Windows XP (Service Pack 2 required). Microsoft has committed to making this software freely available for download, as long as you're downloading to an authorized copy of Windows.

Whatever you call it, Windows Defender Beta 2 is a significant upgrade.

Windows Defender will also be included in Windows Vista, and first made an appearance there in the December CTP version. I wrote about that version of Windows Defender in the Desktop Pipeline story, Visual Tour: Windows Vista Begins to Get Real.

A Tale Of Two Installation
So is Windows Defender a good product? It's a tale of two installations. I first installed Windows Defender Beta 2 on a machine that previous ran both Microsoft AntiSpyware and an early pre-release version of Windows Defender Beta 2 that Microsoft sent me in advance of Beta 2's formal release. I have had no end of trouble with that installation. I did properly uninstall each previous version of the product before installing each new version. I also uninstalled Windows Defender Beta 2 twice after the initial install. But in all three attempts, the experience was the same. It would work for a while, but then serious error messages would appear, and before I uninstalled it for the last time the utility brought my computer to a crawl.Even so, I also installed Windows Defender on a brand new PC just purchased for Scot Finnie’s Newsletter Labs, and the utility has been working fine there for several days. So my Windows Defender Beta 2 woes could be related to conflicts with things left behind in the System Registry or elsewhere in Windows by earlier versions of Microsoft's anti-spyware utility. It might also be related to the Windows Defender Beta 2 pre-release software I was given (which was not widely distributed), because I have not heard widespread complaints.

But then something strange happened. Just as this review was being readied, one of the two computers running the February CTP of Windows Vista, which includes an almost identical version of Windows Defender, starting throwing off the same error messages. This Vista installation was cleanly installed to its own partition, and I have installed no software over it other than software that supports onboard hardware. So it appears there is a problem with the code of some sort.

Interestingly, both computers that are having troubles with Windows Defender Beta 2 are IBM ThinkPad T43s. On the other hand, the computer that isn't having trouble is also a T43. Go figure.

For what it's worth, I have tried to report my Windows Defender problems through the PR channels to Microsoft, but they have not yet gotten back to me. So, at this point, I advise hanging back on Windows Defender Beta 2. If you have installed it, I'd be interested to hear about your experiences.

All in all, though, I consider Windows Defender to be an improvement over Microsoft AntiSpyware, and it continues to be the only real-time anti-spyware protection running on most of the machines in my care. I'm sure Microsoft will work out the glitch I'm currently experiencing in the latest beta.Reprinted by permission of Scot Finnie. This was adapted from an article that recently appeared in Scot's Newsletter.

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