Microsoft’s Windows OneCare package is now available to the public for testing. The computer-security service won’t be officially released until 2006 and pricing information has yet to be announced (the current version is free). The new program ambitiously tries to be a single place where users can resolve most of their computer-related issues related to viruses, firewalls, spyware, updates, backup, optimization, etc. Computers.net recently installed and tested the latest version. Though progress has been made, it’s not the program it needs to be and here’s why:
MainscreenInterestingly enough, Microsoft made the announcement the same day the latest version of Firefox was released. Microsoft, of course, requires you to be using Internet Explorer to download and install the program. How dare you try and use Firefox! After opening Internet Explorer, the installation seemed to run smoothly, though an unnecessary message cautioning you to not close your browser or you will “corrupt some computer files” is annoying and will needlessly trouble beginner users.
TuneupThe program interface (shown above) is clean and easy to navigate. You can scan for viruses, run a “tune up” (basically optimizes your computer, see picture to the right for what this includes), and configure your backup. The main bar at the top gives you a status report and informs you of any actions you need to take.
While running a virus scan, a progress bar is included as well as helpful links. Microsoft understands the idea that if you’re going to be asked to make a decision, links must be provided that are some flavor of the classic “Help Me Choose” or “What does this mean?” Though Microsoft claims the product includes spyware protection, initial usage suggested otherwise.
BackupThe backup feature is very nice. The wizard does an excellent job of scanning your computer for recently changed files (that are important) and provided a categorized list (see picture on left). But another strike against Microsoft for excluding its competitors from the list of important files to be backed up: Notice how Firefox bookmarks and Thunderbird emails (the default for this computer) were not picked up in the scan, though IE Favorites and Outlook email are included (even if not used on the computer). But luckily you can manually add files not found in the initial backup scan. The wizard also tells you how many CDs you’ll need (if that’s the method you choose) to backup your files and can be automated if you use a removal hard drive.
Microsoft’s service will eventually include phone and email support. Ryan Hamlin, general manager of the care-and-safety group at Microsoft, states “This is not for the super tech savvy. This is for the common Windows user who just wants their PC to be safe.” This is exactly where the product falls apart: it asks too many unimportant questions and gives too much trivial information (though, to be fair, almost all consumer security software has this problem).
VirusalertFor example, to the right is a picture of the window that pops up when a virus is found. After a brief explanation, the program gives you the option to “Clean File” or “Cancel.” How long will it take before anti-virus programs just clean the blasted file? Why must we be asked? Just clean the dang thing, no permission is needed! Sometimes viruses can infect hundreds of files, which could potentially cause a user to needlessly sit and click “Clean File” a hundred times. And then, of course, other options may appear if a file can’t necessarily be cleaned. Do you want to quarantine it? Delete it? All these decisions are exactly what consumers hate. If consumers had there way, they would never know about viruses because their computer would be intelligent enough to take care of them behind the scenes.
The same problem still exists with the firewall which, among other things, is supposed to protect users from having online programs alter their Windows environment. OneCare’s default settings cause a popup to appear in the system tray every time a program is denied or approved access to the Internet. This falls under the “trivial information” category. Users don’t need to know that Microsoft has approved Firefox to use the Internet (the first popup received). Users hate being asked if they want to allow Quickbooks (or whatever legit program) to go online. Luckily there’s an advanced setting which turns off these alerts (though beginners will have a hard time finding it let alone have any idea that it exists).
Bottom line: Security software needs more intelligence and automation and less user interaction. Microsoft’s OneCare does a nice job of consolidating tasks but currently causes too many headaches with constant user interaction.