The security protection of Microsoft’s Windows Live OneCare 2.0 suite is much better than that of the debut version we reviewed more than a year and a half ago.

Add to that a low price, and you have a solid, easy-to-use product for PC users who don’t want to mess too much with software settings.

OneCare combines the virus, adware/spyware, and two-way firewall protection of a security suite with the backup and defragging tools of a utility suite.

I downloaded and installed it quickly, although I had to create a Windows Live ID to do so.

One $50 license (as of 12/27/07) lets you use the software on three PCs, and you can use the program to back up to one or more CD/DVDs, external hard drives, and (new in this version) networked drive volumes.

You can create backups on demand or on a schedule.

The software is simple to use, largely because it has few settings to configure. A status bar lets you know whether your PC’s health is Good (green), Fair (orange), or At Risk (red), and prompts you to take the appropriate corrective action.

The software ran smoothly on two test machines, one running Windows XP and the other running Vista Home Premium.

(I was amused to see that Vista’s User Access Control required that I grant permission to Microsoft’s own security software to run.)

In performance tests by German security research company, OneCare was reasonably good at detecting known malware samples.

It recognized on average 95 percent of the backdoor programs, bots, Trojan horses, and worms in’s collection of 674,589 threats.

In our recent roundup of security suites, detection percentages in this test ranged from 69 to 98 percent; though we can’t compare exact test results between stories due to differences in sample sets, we can still reasonably conclude that OneCare did fairly well.

OneCare also detected a pretty good 88 percent of adware and spyware, and 83 percent of rootkits. OneCare’s heuristic ability to detect unknown threats based on their similarity to previously recognized samples was very good too.

On the downside, OneCare is tardy in responding to new security outbreaks. During a six-month period in 2007, Microsoft on average took 24 to 26 hours to release a threat definition update.

That’s appallingly slow, given that BitDefender and Kaspersky needed on average no more than 2 hours to update their respective suites.

OneCare has gotten much better at minimizing unnecessary pop-up alerts; the only blatant annoyance I encountered was that it required me to approve Google Desktop as a legitimate program.

It didn’t drag down my system, either, although in’s tests, the 5-megabytes-per-second scan rate was below average.

On the other hand, the 8-MBps file copy speed with active real-time protection enabled was above average compared with results from the eight suites we tested for our previous roundup.

OneCare is inexpensive, particularly when you factor in its unique 24-hour free phone support. Holdouts for best-of-breed protection will still scoff at OneCare, but other users who don’t want to think very hard about security should consider it.

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