Microsoft's various products have long had a reputation for being full of security holes. Outlook and Outlook Express seem to be the biggest relayers of spam and viruses in the world; Internet Explorer allows rogue Internet sites to steal your personal data and even take over your computer; and the various versions of the Windows operating systems are riddled with security problems. I've written about these issues a number of times and won't repeat it all again here. For a brief look at these problems, do a search on Google for "Microsoft security problems" (without the quotes). I just did that and found more than 8 million occurrences listed, which may, in itself, be a record.
I also have written about spyware several times and have written reviews of two popular programs that find and remove spyware from Windows computers: SpyBot and Ad-aware. A reader sent an e-mail today asking if I was planning to review the new Microsoft AntiSpyWare program. Microsoft describes the new product as a way to protect its Windows customers from spyware and other unwanted software that can slow PC performance or display unwanted pop-up ads. Also, I need to point out that the new program searches for spyware only; it pays no attention to viruses. A beta version of this free program was released a few days ago and is gaining reputation as being a good product. The person who asked suggested that I review it. I replied to him in e-mail, but thought I would post the same response here.
I have downloaded Microsoft's AntiSpyWare onto one of my Windows systems and tinkered with it. However, upon running the program, all it ever says is "Nothing found." I believe that report is accurate. I cannot really test it very well since I always keep all of my systems free of spyware. I suspect there really is no spyware on the system I use for testing; so, I assume that Microsoft's new program is giving a correct assessment. As a result, I cannot say how effective the program is at identifying and removing spyware.
The problem is with me: I refuse to go back to surfing the web with Internet Explorer or to use Outlook or Outlook Express so that I can get my computer infected and then properly test Microsoft's new AntiSpyware program. I want to keep my systems free of spyware, viruses, Trojan horses, and all the other "nasties." As a result, I cannot properly test this program. You won't be reading any review of this product from me.
Actually, there are several reviews of Microsoft AntiSpyWare already available on the web. One review that I trust was written by the well-known PC expert, Neil Rubenking of PC Magazine. His brief review of the beta version of Microsoft AntiSpyWare may be found at http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,1759,1749938,00.asp. I would suggest that you look there.
You can download the new free Microsoft AntiSpyware (beta) program at http://www.microsoft.com/athome/security/spyware/software/default.mspx. Be aware that the program works only on Microsoft Windows 2000, Windows XP, or Windows Server 2003. Microsoft is not offering any solutions for those who use older Microsoft products: Windows 98, 95, NT or ME. According to the company's web page, Windows AntiSpyware is only available to "genuine" Windows users running licensed copies of the operating system. Microsoft asks visitors to Microsoft.com to validate their Windows license before obtaining a copy of the Windows AntiSpyware beta, but the website allows downloads even if visitors have not certified that their copy of Windows is legal.
I will mention that there is some controversy about the program. For one thing, it lists WeatherBug as a spyware program, yet the company that produces WeatherBug and many of its satisfied customers claim otherwise.
Writing in CNet news, Robert Lemos says that Microsoft may eventually charge money for the new AntiSpyware program after the beta test period is finished. That will put Microsoft in the position of charging its customers to protect their computers against software defects that Microsoft developers should have caught. You can read that article on CNet.com.
You might also be interested in the more established privacy programs that will operate on both newer and older versions of Windows and have an established reputation for accuracy: Ad-aware at http://www.lavasoft.de and SpyBot at http://www.safer-networking.org. Both of those basic programs are also free (although they also offer advanced versions with even more features for a payment).
Of course, Macintosh and Linux users are laughing at the rest of us. While viruses and spyware are theoretically possible on those operating systems, they are so rare that all Macintosh and Linux users simply ignore the possibilities. You cannot find many anti-virus or privacy programs for Macintosh or Linux as there is little need for them. Mac and Linux users don't have to jump through as many hoops as Windows users.