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Microsoft rolls out public beta for latest Security Essentials

A beta of the latest version of Microsoft's antivirus product is now available for any user with a Windows Live account.

The new beta for Microsoft's latest version of Security Essentials
The new beta for Microsoft's latest version of Security Essentials.
Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

Microsoft has launched a public beta for the new version of its Security Essentials software for anyone to download and test drive.

The software is available free through a "download now" link for the beta on the Security Essentials Web site. But getting to the file itself requires a bit of a trek. Clicking on the link brings you to a Microsoft Connect page where you need to log in with a Windows Live ID and password.

You'll then see a page describing the features in the new beta along with the system requirements and installation instructions. Clicking on the link to the download page (listed in Step 2 of the instructions) displays the title of the file--MSE Public Beta. And then clicking on that title finally takes you to the page where you can actually download the software.

Microsoft is offering two editions of the Security Essentials beta--a 64-bit version called mseinstall-amd64fre-en-us.exe and a 32-bit version called mseinstall-x86fre-en-us.exe. You can download both versions in one shot or separately depending on whether you're running a 32-bit or 64-bit version of Windows. The software will support Windows XP with Service Pack 3, Windows Vista with Service Pack 1 or 2, and Windows 7 with Service Pack 1.

The company had previously indicated that it would limit the number of beta testers. A Microsoft spokesperson told me that the beta is publicly available to users who are registered with Microsoft Connect, however, a limited number of beta downloads are available.

The new beta is supposed to offer a variety of enhancements over its version 2.0 predecessor.

Among the new features that Microsoft is touting are a simpler interface and faster performance. The new version is also designed to remove malware infections automatically without bothering the user and offers a new engine to better detect and eliminate security threats.

Downloading and installing the beta in Windows 7 revealed the same interface found in the current version. Other than displaying a font that's easier on the eyes, the new beta looks essentially the same to me, offering the standard screens, menus, and other settings.

In response, the Microsoft rep said that although the interface is basically the same, the company made several changes to "simplify the user experience." For example, the settings tab contains fewer options, while the malware notice will only pop up if the PC is infected by "highly impacting" malware.

Of course, determining whether the beta is faster and more effective than the current version is another matter, one that requires more time and testing.

Microsoft often offers surveys to beta testers to report their results. So far, no survey is available for the new beta. But users with comments or questions can chime in at the Security Essentials forum hosted at Microsoft Answers.

Updated 12/1 1:00 p.m. PT with comments from Microsoft.