Yesterday, Microsoft released the next version of its Microsoft Security Essentials software. It’s been a number of months since Microsoft first unveiled the beta on the Microsoft Connect site, and most recently the revised beta or RC version. However, months of beta testing has led to an even better and more refined product since the first version was released a little over one year ago.

Not much has changed since the original 1.0 release (read my review). MSE 2.0 still remains the light-weight, simple to use, and best of all, quiet security program its predecessor was. This is excellent, of course, as my favorite feature of MSE is how “quiet” it really is. As with MSE 1.0, the new version does now constantly nag the owner to update the software, it just automatically does so. It also won’t continuously tell you that it’s currently running a scan, it just starts running the scan at the automated, prescribed time. Simple, elegant, fast, and clean. Wonderful. Most of the changes will be behind the scenes and not noticeable right away. This should be welcomed, especially because Microsoft was able to get it right the first time through.

Installation

Installing MSE 2.0 is pretty straightforward. Feel free, however, to look at some of my installation screenshots for a more in-depth coverage. As with MSE 1.0, MSE 2.0 requires an activated copy of Windows and will check for that before the actual install will begin.

User Interface Changes

The basic UI in MSE 2.0 has changed subtlely from its predecessor. However, it still retains its four tabs, Home Update, History, and Settings.

Home. This is the designated main screen where the most important information regarding the status of MSE is summarized. From here, you can also start a scan in three modes, Quick, Full, or Custom.

Update. A very simple page, the update tab allows you to quickly verify the last time MSE was updated along with performing a manual update for your virus and NIS definitions (see below).

History. The history tab is good to see previously found and/or deleted vulnerabilities either found during a automatic/manual scan or through downloading a file from the Internet. It doesn’t, however, display the actual history of your virus scans that have been previously run.

Settings. The final, and possibly most complex, part of the application is the Settings tab. This area offers several different areas in which you can customize MSE. Feel free to check out the screenshot gallery below to see all of the available options. Some of my favorite settings include setting the maximum allowable CPU usage, real-time protection settings, and the ability to automatically scan removable storage (this needs to be turned on, as it’s disabled by default).

Behind the Scenes Changes

There’s a number of changes made between MSE 1.0 and MSE 2.0. Most of the changes, however, are behind the scenes and cannot really be seen on the surface. Of course, it’s these changes that can sometimes make or break a product. Thankfully, Microsoft has decided to go a slow and steady route and is trying to evolve MSE more than create a completely new, revolutionized product.

First on the list is integration features. MSE 2.0 will now integrate with Windows Firewall and Internet Explorer (if you have it installed with Windows 7). Although MSE is compatible with Windows XP, some of the integration features may now be as noticeable, or even available in XP.

There’s also a new network discovery feature, called Network Inspection System Engine, which allows MSE to “sniff” out vulnerabilities in the connected network. It’s pretty cool, but once again, something that’s more of a behind the scenes thing and won’t really be noticeable on a day-by-day basis. Similar to the Antivirus/Antispyware features of MSE, the NIS Engine will rely on definitions in order to update its vulnerability pool.

Of course, no update to Microsoft Security Essentials—or any security suite, for that matter—is complete without an update to the malware engine. The 2.0 update brings the Antimalware Client version to 3.0.8107.0 and adds a new Network Inspection Engine and Definition versions as well.

mse_2.0-01

Acquiring Microsoft Security Essentials

As of last night, Microsoft was not actively pushing this update to end-users. Instead, you’ll have to go directly to the download site to upgrade your copy, or use the upgrade feature within the program’s UI. As with the previous version, MSE 2.0 is still free. There are no catches to the free part either, except, of course, you do need a legally activated copy of Windows. As of right now, Microsoft continues to support Windows XP as well as Seven and Vista. Microsoft may eventually fade out XP support as they did with their Windows Live Essentials suite in future updates, but as of yet, they have not officially announced anything.