MS AntiSpyware Beta Shows Promise, Problems

Review: It's heartening to see Microsoft addressing the spyware problem, but this first version, a relabeling of a product the company bought, needs some work before they sell it.

Just a few months ago Bill Gates declared that Microsoft would do something about the spyware/adware problem. And the company wasted no time. In December it bought Giant Company Software. Giant wasnt an especially well-known company, but its product was well-regarded. Now, just one month later we have a free initial beta version of a Microsoft AntiSpyware product.

For a first beta of a first version of a Microsoft product, its a fabulous product. Of course, that would be a misleading description. Its as good as it is because Microsoft paid for a product with a good deal of development already behind it, and as a result they can go to market with a respectable solution. For now, anyone can download it for free from Microsofts Web site. The company has not said what the eventual pricing or distribution scheme will be, but we have also reported that they are planning a subscription service for updates.

This initial product is a simple repackaging of the Giant client and has no network manageability features that one might expect from a more mature Microsoft product. It does have a very simple installer. The default decisions are generally reasonable, although there are some strange behaviors. First, the program scans the system after the initial installation, but doesnt update itself first, so the initial scan is performed on old definitions.

Along the same lines, the installer defaults to setting the system up to scan at 2 a.m. and update itself at 3 a.m. Clearly, switching these times would be more effective. The scheduler is integrated with the program, not the standard Windows Scheduled Tasks facility, making it harder to tell what conflicts there might be with other tasks. Users also have the option of joining "SpyNet," which appears to be simply a feature whereby the program reports back to Microsoft what threats it finds on your system.

I tested the MS AntiSpyware beta on three different systems and specifically sought out adware to test with. I had mixed results with both the real-time protection and the static scanner. For instance, I was able to download and install PurityScan, a well-known source of adware, without complaint from the program. Once I ran PurityScan, MS AntiSpyware complained that it attempted to install a Run key in the registry to execute itself at startup and to install a BHO (browser helper object, a plug-in to Internet Explorer). I chose to block both of these attempts.

Next Page: Anti-spyware vs. anti-virus.