Microsoft's AntiSpyware is a rebadged version of Giant Software's existing app. Gates liked it so much, he bought the company in December. Its collection of security and privacy tools seeks out spyware and trackers, alerting you to other funny business such as someone trying to piggyback your wireless network bandwidth. It's fairly efficient and is freely downloadable until 31 July.

AntiSpyware scans the contents of your PC quickly and is pretty thorough in picking up threats. It was able to detect the same amount of spyware as veteran detectors Spybot Search & Destroy and Ad-aware. All the same, we recommend you continue to use other utilities, albeit not simultaneously. Nor is it any sort of substitute for an antivirus package, so ensure you've got one of those too.

Fast worker

AntiSpyware is significantly faster than Spybot Search & Destroy and, usefully, lets you carry on working while it scans. In fact, we achieved a scan time of six minutes and 50 seconds on a PC with an Athlon 1.8GHz processor and 1GB of RAM, though you can speed it up by changing the settings.

Once it finds a threat, you are given detailed information about it, including its location and a recommended course of action. You can schedule daily, weekly or monthly scans and set AntiSpyware to automatically delete or quarantine anything it detects.

Updates of the latest spyware and adware are provided via the SpyNet community, but the program also keeps an eye out for any web-borne nasties that might attempt to alter key system processes, applications and internet features that could offer a way in for hackers, rogue diallers and keyloggers.

Cool it

Sometimes AntiSpyware can be over zealous, popping up in the bottom righthand corner to tell you you're in the middle of installing something, even if it's from a CD. Thankfully, you can alter this by deselecting Allowed Alerts under Tools, Alerts.

If you drill down into the Real-Time Protection section you can see at a glance how many sentry points are currently manned and activate or close off any you wish under the Internet, System or Applications headings. The latter watches for programs that load at Startup and warns you of any unexpected additions, while the other two focus on modifications to your browser settings, bookmarks and the Registry.

We like the Spam Zombie Prevention, which makes sure your PC isn't turned into a spam-spewing machine, and Winsock Layer Service Provider - also found in ZeroSpyware, reviewed opposite - which assures you spyware isn't monitoring and recording your network traffic.

On the whole, we like it, but we're concerned at the inclusion of restore settings that will only let you reset hijacked browser settings to Microsoft ones. Erm, hello, every IT or security expert on Earth has been telling us for months to try an alternative browser such as Mozilla Firefox.

Microsoft AntiSpyware beta is currently free. Responding to a surge in online scams involving spyware over the past year the company recently announced that it will release the product to all users at no cost when the beta runs out in July of this year (see Behind the news, page 24).

Spyware detection and destruction tools are now a necessary element of our online armouries and, as with antivirus apps, lapsed protection is no protection at all.

Microsoft Anti-Spyware beta: Specs

  • 300MHz Pentium II or higher
  • Windows 2000/2003 Server/XP
  • 64MB RAM
  • 10MB hard disk space
  • IE 6.0
  • 300MHz Pentium II or higher
  • Windows 2000/2003 Server/XP
  • 64MB RAM
  • 10MB hard disk space
  • IE 6.0

OUR VERDICT

AntiSpyware is effective and free, but if it kills off the competition and then, at a later date, tries to charge us all for ongoing protection, it will be a disservice not only to the existing anti-spyware companies that are feeling threatened by Microsoft's might, but also to we poor PC users.

Find the best price