Review: Windows Live OneCare Protects Your PC--Almost

Microsoft's new all-in-one security and maintenance suite offers a stellar firewall, mediocre backup capabilities, and no protection whatsoever from phishing or spam.

A Look At The Firewall
The firewall is a winner. XP's default firewall offers only inbound blocking; the OneCare firewall adds outbound blocking as well. It's intelligently designed and automatically allows many applications, such as Internet Explorer, to make outbound connections. When it encounters a new application that wants to make an outbound connection, it blocks the application, then asks if you want to keep blocking it or allow it.

One slight difficulty: OneCare is set up so that, if you want to allow the outbound connection, you may have to restart the application to let it through. It would have been better if the firewall acted like other firewalls, including ZoneAlarm, that do not require a restart.

The OneCare firewall, blocking an application trying to make an outbound connection. Click image to enlarge.

The firewall is extremely configurable. You don't have to wait for an alert if you want to allow a specific application to be able to make an outbound connection; it's easy to add any application to the list. You can also easily block specific ports and protocols, and use the firewall to customize file and printer sharing -- for example, allowing it on your own network, but not anywhere else. (That feature is best used only by power users who understand Internet protocols and ports.)

Where OneCare Falls Short
The news is not so good for other built-in applications. Defragmentation and disk cleanup, for example, are only front ends to the existing, built-in XP tools.

Most disappointing of all is the backup program. Anyone who has struggled with XP's built-in backup will welcome another backup tool -- but they may not welcome this one. It can't back up to network drives or to other computers attached to a network, a severe oversight not only for small businesses, but for many individuals who have home networks. In addition, although it backs up to external hard drives, it won't back up to USB flash drives, zip drives, or Iomega REV drives.

One nice touch is that it automatically scours your hard disk for files you might want to back up by file type -- documents, music files, and so on. But within each of those categories, you can't customize which files to back up. So, for example, if you want to back up some .doc files and not others, or some MP3 files and not others, you can't do it directly, except through a not-particularly-obvious workaround.

Not everything about OneCare's backup is bad. The interface is quite easy to use, the program will automatically back up your files on a schedule, it performs full and incremental backups, and it alerts you when backups are needed. And it lets you restore files from a CD or DVD to a computer that doesn't have OneCare installed, which is a big plus. If it would back up to networks, allow for more flexibility in choosing files to back up, and back up to USB flash drives, this module would be a winner.

The Bottom Line
So what's the bottom line? Beginning and intermediate users will welcome the program's simplified, one-click approach to security and tune-up. Power users and small businesses, though, may be disappointed, especially by the program's backup module.

The $49.95 list price covers three PCs for one year, which is a good deal. But when you look more closely, the price is not quite as good as it seems. Windows Defender is available as a free download, and some of the program's tune-up tools are already built into XP. So for $49.95 you get a good anti-virus program, a good firewall, and a so-so backup program, as well as automatic alerts and integration of all tools. The price still may be right, but power users and small businesses may still want another backup program in addition to what ships with OneCare.

Windows Live OneCare
Microsoft, Inc.
Price: $49.95
Summary: Microsoft Windows Live OneCare is a reasonably priced, well-integrated security and tune-up solution that lacks some important features, with a notably weak backup module.
Editor's Choice
Brian T. Horowitz, Contributing Reporter
Samuel Greengard, Contributing Reporter
Nathan Eddy, Freelance Writer
Brandon Taylor, Digital Editorial Program Manager
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing