CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

Windows Live OneCare review: Windows Live OneCare

Windows Live OneCare doesn't provide as many unique features and often repackages tools already available for free within the Windows operating system. For $30 more, it's well worth investing in the solutions from McAfee or Symantec, and we give the final nod to Norton 360 which ensures the best protection and performance tools for your money.

Robert Vamosi Former Editor
As CNET's former resident security expert, Robert Vamosi has been interviewed on the BBC, CNN, MSNBC, and other outlets to share his knowledge about the latest online threats and to offer advice on personal and corporate security.
Robert Vamosi
6 min read

Windows Live OneCare


Windows Live OneCare

The Good

Windows Live OneCare provides antivirus, antispyware, and firewall protection; defragments hard drives; offers local backup and recovery.

The Bad

Windows Live OneCare relies too much on Windows components such as Internet Explorer and Windows Defender for its security; doesn't support Firefox or Opera browsers; doesn't offer online backup; many of the features are already available for free within Windows; overall, doesn't match the depth and breadth of unique security tools offered by Symantec Norton 360 or McAfee Total Protection.

The Bottom Line

Windows Live OneCare doesn't provide as many unique features and often repackages tools already available for free within the Windows operating system. For $30 more, it's well worth investing in the solutions from McAfee or Symantec, and we give the final nod to Norton 360 which ensures the best protection and performance tools for your money.

Windows Live OneCare is Microsoft's entry into the lucrative consumer security marketplace, and it falls short of expectations. At $49.95 for one year of service on up to three different PCs, Windows Live OneCare's early sales appeared to rival its well-established competition. Now, with the release of McAfee Total Protection and Symantec Norton 360, the differences among these three super security suites are revealing. McAfee and Symantec offer many more unique features than Microsoft which is new to the consumer security arena. Overall, we found OneCare doesn't provide as many unique features and often repackages tools already available for free within the Windows operating system, windows Defender, or within Internet Explorer 7. And Windows Live OneCare fails the latest independent antivirus testing. For $30 more, it's well worth investing in the solutions from McAfee or Symantec, and we give the final nod to Norton 360 which ensures the best protection and performance tools for your money.

Setup and Interface
We downloaded and installed Windows Live OneCare without a problem. Windows Live OneCare requires a whopping 600MB of hard drive space, nearly twice that of Norton 360 and nearly three times that of McAfee Total Protection. Like the others, Windows Live OneCare requires 256MB of RAM. Windows Live OneCare works with Windows XP and Windows Vista. Only McAfee works on Windows 2000 through Windows Vista; Norton 360 works on Windows XP and Windows Vista. Like the other super security suites, the price for Windows Live OneCare includes installation on up to three different PCs (for example, two desktops and a laptop).

Nothing fancy here. The Windows Live OneCare interface simply offers the option to run scans and status reports about those scans.

The Windows Live OneCare interface lacks icons, graphics, and sophistication. A toolbar across the top displays current system status and alerts, such as a reminder to activate your service if you are still in trial mode. The left-hand navigation offers to start a scan for viruses and spyware, start a backup, restore from a backup, configure options, and seek help. The main section includes modules reporting on PC Security, Transaction Security, Backup and Recovery, and PC Tuneup. Each of these modules displays a color-coded status and a brief explanation with an option for more details.

Should you want to remove Windows Live OneCare, we couldn't find an uninstall icon and so we used the Add or Remove Programs tool within the Windows Control Panel. Upon reboot we found no registry entries and no system folders for OneCare.

Windows Live OneCare contains a handful of new security and performance tools for Windows XP users; the rest of the features within OneCare are free within any Windows XP system. Unique to Windows XP users are Microsoft's own antivirus engine, two-way firewall protection, and backup and recover. Within Windows Vista, only the antivirus engine is unique; the two-way firewall and the backup and restore are features built into Windows Vista.

The Microsoft antivirus engine is based on GeCAD technology, a Romanian security company that the software giant bought several years ago. Unlike the antivirus applicationss from McAfee and Symantec, Microsoft's antivirus protection is basic and only allows you to configure what drives to scan, how to scan them, and how to handle infections (if any). There are no options for heuristics, antirootkit protection, or any of the bells and whistles we've come to expect from more mature antivirus products on the market today. For antispyware protection, Microsoft includes its Windows Defender technology, which anyone can download for free. For antiphishing, antirootkit, and behavior monitoring, OneCare uses Internet Explorer 7, which is also available for free.

Windows Live OneCare brings two-way firewall protection to Windows XP, however, we could find very little direct evidence. We found no specific configuration settings for inbound versus outbound filtering, although we did find a setting to configure individual program control for Internet browsers and other applications that need to connect to the Internet.

Windows Live OneCare includes performance tools, however, these are features already included within Windows XP. For example, OneCare will defragment your hard drive (see All Programs > Accessories > SystemTools > Defragment) and clean out temporary Internet files (see Internet Explorer > Tools > Internet Options > Browsing History) We do like the fact there's a one-button option to run these features automatically, but that's hardly enough to justify the cost of OneCare. The performance feature is nowhere near as thorough as that provided with McAfee Total Protection, which also includes a data file shredder to permanently remove deleted files.

Windows Live OneCare includes a basic backup and recovery tool. Like Norton and McAfee, OneCare allows you to back up onto your HD, CD, DVD, or USB drives. Unlike Norton, OneCare does not provide online storage. Further, when using a local device, Windows Live OneCare does not recommend backing up your data to a FAT32 device. Should you have a second partition that's FAT32, Windows Live OneCare provides instructions for converting your hard drive from a FAT32 system to an NTFS system, but this hardly a task that the average computer user will want to perform. We think Microsoft could have created a more user-friendly backup solution for OneCare.

Parental Controls (included within Windows Vista) is provided within an additional download of Windows Live OneCare Family Safety (beta), which is currently available for free.

What's missing within Windows Live OneCare are many security and performance features we hoped that an all-in-one security suite might provide. For example, there are no tools specifically targeted for wireless home networks. Aside from help setting up wireless networks, we'd also like to see tools that help users encrypt the signals with WEP, WPA or WPA2, or at least monitor whether someone uninvited joins your home wireless network. Of the three super security suites, only McAfee Total Protection includes wireless security tools.

And Windows Live OneCare is only optimized for Internet Explorer, not Firefox or Opera; same with Norton 360. Of the three super suites we reviewed, only McAfee supports IE and Firefox; none support Opera.

We experienced a few system lockups after loading Windows Live OneCare. One lockup occured while attempting to backup our system, surprising given that Windows Live OneCare is supposed to be a desktop IT department for the average home user.

To determine how well a product will protect your PC, we defer to test results from two leading independent antivirus testing organizations. The latest test results from AV-Comparatives.org show Windows Live OneCare catching on 82 percent of all viruses, placing it in last place behind all the other antivirus products tested. Windows Live OneCare has not yet been tested by CheckVir.com. One independent source not used by CNET, Virus Bulletin, recently denied its VB100% certification to Windows Live OneCare.

Windows Live OneCare offers technical support with a one-year subscription. By clicking either the Help icon in the upper-right corner or the Get Help with Windows Live OneCare option in the left-hand navigation area, you are taken to a Microsoft-maintained Web page. Launch Instant Support, a button central on the page, takes you to an FAQ page with the option to search for additional information. Along the left-hand navigation, the choices were less specific. Service Overview was basically an advertisement for OneCare, listing its features. Get It Now was an option to buy (given that we had a purchased copy, that made no sense). Help Center takes you back to the Launch Instant Support page. And Safety Scan takes you to the free online scan tools provided by Microsoft.

Using the Instant Support option, we clicked through several FAQs before declaring that none addressed our problem. We were then taken to a support page, which took us to another support page. Ultimately there are online forums, online chat, and live telephone support, but the effort is hardly satisfactory, and the experience will leave most users frustrated and angry. McAfee and Symantec both include detailed in-program help, online chats, free e-mail support, and an option to pay for telephone support, all within a few clicks.

When considering an all-in-one security solution, you should look beyond the price. The features offered by Windows Live OneCare scarcely rise above those offered by more traditional Internet Security suites from ZoneAlarm, McAfee, Symantec, Trend Micro, or CA. Many of the features within OneCare are free within Windows itself, and the few value-added features, such as antivirus protection, are not justification for the pricing and are less robust than solutions offered elsewhere.


Windows Live OneCare

Score Breakdown

Setup 6Features 7Performance 6Support 6