Windows Live OneCare is the only software that takes responsibility for all four of the important housekeeping functions. When its icon is green, I’m confident that a computer is protected against viruses and adware/spyware and all security updates are installed for Windows and for other Microsoft products. Regular disk maintenance – defragging and temporary file cleanup – is a nice bonus.

Each step away from OneCare exposes another icon down by the clock that requires attention. For example, no other vendor tries to take over the Windows Update process. It’s not hard to be alert for the gold shield when updates need to be installed manually – but each additional icon demanding attention makes it easier for people to look away from all of them.

OneCare has had bugs and annoyances in the last year. Sadly, as near as I can tell, it has had fewer problems than any of its competitors. Norton 360 and McAfee Total Protection are similar products – subscription services for virus and adware/spyware protection, plus backups and miscellaneous other features. Norton 360 is praised highly in reviews – Editor’s Choice!

There’s an odd disconnect between the reviewers and the real world. Let me give you a screen shot that tells you everything you need to know about Norton 360 (left) and McAfee Total Protection (right), from CNet’s review pages this evening:

norton360review mcafeecnetreview

(It’s worth it to click on the pictures and go read some of the user comments – almost all contributed by viciously angry people. I wear a badge on my shirt. When I approach a computer with a Norton product installed, the badge turns black. If I had a canary, it would die as I got close. Stores can’t stock Norton products because toxic waste oozes from the boxes and eats through the shelves. Norton products make computers smell bad. Look, just don’t buy Norton stuff, okay?)

If you are an attentive computer user, you have a wealth of options!

  • Many vendors make good antivirus programs – TrendMicro, AVG, Panda, Avast, and more. (AVG’s free antivirus program is particularly highly regarded.) Watch the program icon for a change in shape or color.
  • You can either get integrated adware/spyware protection with the antivirus coverage, or depend on Windows Defender (included in Windows Vista, or free for Windows XP). A little castle icon appears when Windows Defender needs attention.
  • The gold shield for Windows security updates is obvious and easy to deal with.
  • Backups can be done in a hundred ways. Online backup services are becoming ubiquitous. Vista’s built-in backup options are top notch. Storagecraft ShadowProtect Desktop Edition does some extraordinary things. Some backup programs require manual intervention, others work automatically; some notify you when backups are missed or don’t finish correctly, others make it a fun surprise.

If you cover those four tasks – virus protection, adware/spyware protection, security updates, and backups – you will be happy and my phone will not ring. I don’t care how you do it!

If you want that to be done in the simplest, least intrusive way, then Windows Live OneCare is still the program that does the most with the least intervention.

Now be careful out there!

Tomorrow: some additional considerations for small businesses.

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