Windows OneCare Live: Total PC Protection from Microsoft?

It gets to be rather a lot, doesn’t it? Install and run the antivirus. Run the firewall. Back up, defragment and clean up your hard drive. Oh, and don’t forget to make sure your anti-virus utility is constantly updated with the latest definition files. Pretty soon you’re spending all your time protecting and maintaining your PC, rather than using the darn thing.

Once again Bill Gates feels your pain.

Windows OneCare is Microsoft’s answer to PC maintenance. Free to try in beta release, Microsoft says the product will come out in a paid-subscription version later this year.

Like the best Microsoft products, OneCare is aimed at those with little interest in the nuts and bolts of technology. A set-and-forget tool, it runs in the background, quietly protecting and tidying your machine with few intrusions.

A firewall and anti-virus protection work together to block incoming nasties, and the software automatically updates itself to keep up with current threats. The PC tune-up function automatically defragments the hard drive, backs up files to an external hard drive if available and removes unnecessary files to increase available disk space.

The program interface is clear and simple, and the controls are straightforward, but minimal. Tech-savvy users already have voiced complaints, saying that the user-friendly controls are too dumbed-down and that more sophisticated options and detailed controls ought to be available to those who feel comfortable working at a higher level. One recent user review sums up the sentiment: “It’s software for the lame.”

The development team has indicated it plans to remedy this in further iterations. Developers say they wanted to cut across as many skill levels as possible on the first pass, and that future functionality likely will include more detailed controls.

Another common complaint: No spyware detection. Here too Microsoft has said it plans to add this level of protection in the near future.

You will need to consider even more limitations. You’ll need Windows XP to run OneCare, and in classic Microsoft style, the software only works with Internet Explorer 6. Running Netscape or Firefox? Bye bye.

For an allegedly user-friendly program in beta release, Windows OneCare sure has racked up a lot of complaints in a short period of time, but maybe that’s what comes of bearing the Microsoft moniker. Give people a big enough target, and someone will take shots at you.

One more shot? OneCare is not compatible with other widely used protection systems, including Symantec Norton Antivirus and McAfee Internet Security Suite. Microsoft recommends that people uninstall all such programs in order to avoid potential computer lock-up.

On their blog, the OneCare software developers cite “general industry consensus” that it is best to run only one anti-virus on a single machine.

In fairness, this is beta, an early release in which developers are expected to still be working out the kinks. If history is any guide, the official pay version may well address many of these shortcomings.

Extreme Simplicity of Care
Current complaints aside, suppose you meet all the requirements: Windows XP, Explorer 6 and no competing antivirus. What do you get for your trouble? As promised, you get extreme simplicity of care.

A visual health meter delivers a clear, continuous indication of your computer’s overall protection and performance levels. If the software notices anything you can do to improve your status, a message will alert you to the situation and propose a one-click solution to the problem.

You also get tools that are, in some cases, unexpectedly sophisticated, such as the two-way firewall. Not only will it keep malicious items from coming in, but it also will keep you from sending digital nastiness in your outgoing communications.

The fundamental offering — anti-virus protection — is most important Microsoft has claimed that 70 percent of consumers do not have anti-virus software or do not keep it updated. For most people, software that delivers virus protection, quietly and efficiently, with few failings and little hands-on attention needed, can only be for the good.

On the Other Hand
Some (jaded) members of the PC community have suggested that many of the security threats being addressed by OneCare may well have come about due to security holes in the Microsoft operating system. Doesn’t MS therefore owe it to us to include this kind of tool as part of its OS, for free? For now, it’s more a philosophical than a practical suggestion, but perhaps one worth pondering by Redmond.

Pros: Easy-to-use PC protection and maintenance, backs up and restores important files; built-in defrag utility, automatic updates

Cons: Beta release lacks comprehensive protection, including spyware protection; not compatible with other antivirus tools, requires Windows XP and Internet Explorer 6+

Adapted from

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Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing addresses the technology needs of small businesses, which are defined as businesses with fewer than 500 employees and/or less than $7 million in annual sales.

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