"Disappointing" is one of the nicer words people have used to describe Microsoft's Windows Live OneCare. Part of me wonders if this is Microsoft deliberately holding back a bit to avoid antitrust accusations and incurring further legal trouble, but that still doesn't explain the generally lackluster feature mix shown here.
OneCare's protections consist of an antivirus system, controls for IE 7's anti-phishing filter, periodic performance tune-ups, and backup and restore functionality. Each one of these things can be subjected to strong criticisms. The antivirus protection has in the past fared very poorly against other programs; the anti-phishing filter is for IE only (even if other Web browsers do have anti-phishing protection); and the backup and restore functions are limited to data and not bare-metal backup, something third-party programs have been offering for quite some time now. Apart from its antivirus features, it feels like little more than a front end to many existing Windows functions. Perhaps the single best attribute is the fact that it's available in a 90-day trial version, as opposed to the mere 15 or 30 days that other packages use.
When tested against other antivirus products in the AV-comparatives test back in August 2007, OneCare's protection was only ranked as "standard" -- trapping 90.3% of 800,000+ pieces of malware (which is on the lower end of the scale of tested products). On the plus side, OneCare's detection system was pretty scrupulous: when I performed an on-demand scan of a known-bad item, OneCare took the time to perform a quick inspection of the rest of the system. ' This prolonged the scan a bit more than usual (and I would have liked to see some feedback to that effect), but as an additional protective measure it makes a fair amount of sense.
The system-optimization functions, referred to here as "Performance Plus," run in five phases: removing unneeded files (such as the clutter that builds up in temp directories), defragmenting the hard disk, running a virus scan, checking for what files need to be backed up, and obtaining high-priority security updates from Microsoft. Nominally all this can be run on a schedule -- it's set by default to run every four weeks -- but you can always run the cleanup cycle on demand if you need to.
The backup utility is somewhat like a scaled-down version of the backup utility found in Windows Vista, which is a way of saying it's simple, if sometimes also a little too simple. When invoked, it scans for certain file types and includes them in the backup set by default, but you're also allowed to manually specify additional directories or files that aren't automatically chosen by OneCare's preprogrammed backup criteria. The results are saved in a folder labeled "Windows OneCare Backup," so they're difficult to mistake for anything else, and you can always run the backups on demand if you don't want to wait for the program to decide you need it.
The backup repositories themselves can be written to CD/DVD drives, an external or alternate hard drive, or a network share, but unfortunately no provision is offered within the OneCare product itself for remote network backup (as per what services like Mozy offer). Also, the scope of the backup is limited to personal data -- you can't back up the OS or the system state and restore it from bare metal. This feature has been persistently missing from just about every version of Windows, and only really provided in any form by third-party programs (barring the full-system backup-and-restore available in the higher-priced SKUs of Vista). I just find it irritating that Microsoft isn't even selling the ability to do this through its own system-protection tool.
OneCare's other major feature is anti-phishing controls -- for IE only, which in practice means no real added functionality. (If you habitually run another browser, you'll be left with whatever anti-phishing technology they provide, if any.) There's a sprinkling of other reasonably useful tools scattered throughout OneCare, such as the Firewall Connection Tool -- a convenient little menu for setting up firewall rules based on what you're trying to do (e.g., "File and Printer Sharing," or "Connect my Xbox 360 to my Media Center PC"). But compared with what else is out there at roughly the same prices, OneCare is still way too thin an offering -- even if it does protect three PCs for $50 a year.
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