Today, Microsoft made Windows Defender beta 2 available to the general public. In 2004, Microsoft purchased existing antispyware technology from Giant Software and rebranded it Microsoft AntiSpyware beta 1. For beta 2, Microsoft has changed the name to Windows Defender beta 2, has given the app a face-lift, and has added a much more robust scanning engine. In testing done by Download.com, Windows Defender (tested last December as Microsoft AntiSpyware beta 1) did very well, finishing near the middle of the list for removing known spyware and better than average overall. With more than 25 million users currently running Windows Defender, Microsoft plans to include this free antispyware app in all editions of Windows Vista, due for release in the fall of 2006.
During our installation, we were asked whether we wanted to join Microsoft Spynet. Spynet is one way Microsoft builds its database of spyware. Members report suspicious code, which Microsoft then analyzes, and if the code is found to be malicious, Microsoft adds it to a spyware database. We also had the option of receiving automatic database updates but not join Spynet. And, of course, there's an option not to receive automatic updates as well. With beta 2, you don't have to have administrator status on a given PC to run Windows Defender. Microsoft wants other account holders and guests to be protected against spyware, as well. And Microsoft has added support for 64-bit editions of Windows in this release.
Once installed, Windows Defender beta 2 offers a cleaner look and feel compared to that of Microsoft AntiSpyware beta 1. Scanning and removal tasks are surfaced, and all administrative tasks can be found under the Tools toolbar. Microsoft says the system tray icon will disappear whenever your system is clean, and pop-up messages warning you of dangerous activity are sized in proportion to the threat involved. For example, low threats will be a simple pop-up balloon, and severe threats to your system will involve a large dialog box in which you will have to enter a response before continuing to work.
Under the hood, Microsoft has redesigned its antispyware scan technology, offering real-time protection against potential threats. This, in addition to tighter integration with Internet Explorer 6 and Internet Explorer 7 on Windows XP SP2 or Windows Server 2003 SP1 (currently in beta), means that when you surf to a potentially dangerous Web site, you'll see the threat messages from Windows Defender as the page is loaded. Windows Defender beta 2 also has the ability to scan Microsoft Outlook file attachments.