Microsoft Security Essentials and Microsoft Defender are both products of the same corporation and serve the Windows operating system. However, it’s easy to confuse the two agents together and be uncertain which will best serve your operating system. To clarify, even though the two agents are compatible only with Windows versions, they still offer different features and have a lot of differences between them. Most importantly, the Windows version each is compatible with.

We try in this Microsoft Security Essentials vs. Microsoft Defender comparison to shed light upon each software. We will examine each software’s job in protecting your device, and we will try to highlight the similarities and differences between them.

What is Microsoft Security Essentials? What does it do?

Microsoft Security Essentials is an antivirus agent suitable for the Windows operating system versions Vista SP1, SP2 and Windows Seven. The software provides cybersecurity solutions against viruses, malicious factors, trojans and spyware. Microsoft Security Essentials was a Microsoft antivirus solution before Windows operating system version 8.1 and later versions because their antivirus agent is an integrated software, Microsoft Defender. The newer versions of Microsoft Security Essentials, 4.5 onward, aren’t compatible with Windows XP anymore.

Microsoft Security Essentials uses Microsoft’s same cybersecurity technology in battling cyberattacks. The software has efficient real-time protection against malware, as it regularly runs scans of new files to determine if any of them pose a threat and handle it properly. Unfortunately, MSE doesn’t feature a firewall, which is an integral protective layer and the management features of Forefront Endpoint Protective measures.

MSE is distinguished by its low impact on your operating system; it doesn’t wear your system resources out. It has a user-friendly interface, a clean dashboard, and a freeware licence. The effectiveness of MSE was verified by its perfect score in detecting all common malware samples during the Av-Test independent lab tests in 2009. However, it lost this score three years later for failing to detect any samples during the tests. In 2018, Microsoft improved the software’s detection capabilities and detected 80% of the samples during the new Av-Test test, which earned it the award of Top Product.

Microsoft Security Essentials Security Updates and Compatible Versions

Microsoft Security Essentials automatically updates its virus definitions from your system’s security settings, but you can opt to manually download them if you wish. Initially, the software worked on the Windows 7, Windows Vista and Windows XP. Since 2015, Microsoft ceased to produce virus definition updates for the Windows XP operating system. Hence, MSE version 4.5 onward isn’t compatible with Windows XP. However, if you use Windows XP and have an older version of MSE on your device, you can still manually download its security definitions.

When MSE detects a possible threat or malicious file, it first asks for your decision regarding the required action to take and awaits your response for 10 minutes. Afterwards, if the software doesn’t receive a response from you, it will handle the threat according to its default settings and antivirus protection protocols. One of Microsoft Security Essentials’ best features is the creation of restore checkpoints, which saves and secures all your data before applying security protocols on detected threats to prevent possible data loss. Additionally, the software shares information about detected malware with the Microsoft Active Protection Service, which allows the software to download any virus definitions needed to handle any newly detected malware.

Available versions of MSE are 2.0, 4.0, 4.5 and 4.10. Microsoft began the discontinuation of MSE support for Windows versions of Vista and XP, followed by Windows 7 in 2020, and automatic updates will cease in 2023.

How good is Microsoft Security Essentials?

Microsoft Security Essentials provides a good level of protection to your Windows device, which is tied to the availability of antivirus updates for the software. MSE will protect your device from malware, but it will remain lacking due to the lack of available security updates. Since Microsoft ceased providing updates for all versions of MSE, the software will remain lacking in its protection level. If you still prefer MSE, you can manually download security updates for the version you’re using, but keep in mind that even security updates for MSE 4.10 will no longer be available after 2023.

What is Microsoft Defender? What does it do?

Microsoft Defender is a pre-installed antivirus agent on the Windows operating system, starting from the Windows 8.1 version. When Microsoft first released the agent, it was a downloadable file for Windows Vista, XP and Seven, which users could download or opt for another antivirus agent. When Windows 8.1 was in the developing stages, Microsoft gave users the option to install the antivirus agent as they set up their operating system.

During this time, Microsoft collected data and feedback from users regarding their experience with the new antivirus. From Windows 10 onward, Microsoft made Microsoft Defender an integrated antivirus agent in the operating system, and the only way to disable it was by installing a third-party antivirus agent. As an antivirus agent, Microsoft Defender scored well in independent lab tests such as the Av-Test and Av-Comparatives tests.

Seeing as it is an integrated antivirus, its cost is included in the price of the operating system. Thus, the software is free to use for all Windows desktops. As an antivirus agent, Microsoft Defender offers good protection against malware, viruses, ransomware and parental controls. One of the software’s added features is the Microsoft Firewall. This firewall is considered a soft firewall for its low impact on your system’s resources.

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What are the Differences and Similarities Between Microsoft Security Essentials and Microsoft Defender?

There are numerous similarities and differences between the two software, which we will list below.

  • Both Microsoft Security Essentials and Microsoft Defender are antivirus agents produced by Microsoft Inc.
  • The two products are free to install and use.
  • Microsoft Security Essentials doesn’t have a firewall, while Microsoft Defender has an integrated one.
  • MSE works on earlier versions of the Windows operating system, starting with Windows Vista to Windows 7, while Microsoft Defender works on Windows 8 and later versions.
  • MSE doesn’t work on Windows versions after Windows 7. In fact, if you are upgrading your operating system from 7 to 8, the new operating system’s setup requires the uninstallation of Microsoft Security Essentials so it can proceed with the setup of its integrated antivirus software, Microsoft Defender.
  • Microsoft Defender is only available for Windows 7. However, it differs greatly from that of later versions of the Windows operating system. If you attempt to install Microsoft Defender on Windows 7, you won’t get the full features of the software; you’ll only benefit from its anti-malware capabilities.
  • There won’t be any later versions of Microsoft Security Essentials after the 4.10 version, and Microsoft has discontinued its support for the software’s automatic updates.
  • On the other hand, an updated version becomes available with every Windows operating system from version 8 onward.
  • If you wish to use Microsoft Security Essentials, you must manually download any available new updates. This is due to Microsoft’s halt in supporting such updates.
  • For Microsoft Defender, all new updates are automatically downloaded from your system’s security updates. You can choose to check for updates yourself; however, it’s not recommended.
  • Bear in mind that support for MSE virus definitions on Windows 7 will cease in 2023, and the software will no longer install updates automatically.
  • MSE is compatible with certain versions of desktop operating systems; hence, it protects only one device. But Microsoft Defender allows you to extend this protection by using your registration information on your system to protect another device.

Do you need Microsoft Security Essentials if you have Microsoft Defender?

Earlier, we stated that if you’re upgrading your Windows operating system version from Windows 7 to Windows 8, the installation file will prompt you to uninstall MSE so it can install Microsoft Defender instead. Since security updates for Microsoft Defender are still supported and provided by Microsoft, you can safely forego the old software and rely on MD to protect your data. Keep in mind that MD provides a good level of protection against malware, and we even compared it with several giants in the AV realm, such as Avast, McAfee and ESET.

Should you Disable Microsoft Defender?

As we mentioned, MD and MSE cannot exist on the same device. If you’re switching to an older version of the Windows operating system or will use one for work, for example, you will be uninstalling the entire Windows operating system, hence uninstalling Windows Defender, so you don’t need to disable anything.

If you feel your data is still not secure with Microsoft Defender and wish to install a third-party antivirus agent, you generally don’t need to manually disable the software before the installation of the new one. Your operating system will detect the installation of a new antivirus agent, and Microsoft Defender will automatically cease to work. However, some antivirus agents, such as Avast, require you to open their settings and make them the default antivirus on the device.

To answer the question we brought up at the beginning of whether you need both MSE and MD, you only need one, the one compatible with your Windows operating system.