Windows Live OneCare Beta on Vista RC1 - Early Experiences

My virus scanner of choice had been NOD32 for a pretty long while now, but they don’t seem to be very supportive so far of Vista users. Same goes for ZoneAlarm Pro, which I had been using as a personal firewall solution, mainly for those situations where my laptop runs outside my own network. While the ESET guys (makers of NOD32), or at least their british support franchise, had the courtesy of replying to my mails, ZoneLabs did not, to this date, answer any of my questions about their state of Vista support.

Due to these problems, I had been using the special Vista version of Trend Micro’s PC-cillin that Microsoft list on their pages and I hadn’t seen any problems. But today the Windows Live OneCare Beta of version 1.5 started, and it’s Vista compatible. So I decided to try it out. After downloading a huge amount of stuff, the installer informed me that my existing PC-cillin installation would be in the way of OneCare and it had to be removed. I okay’d that, but the uninstallation failed for no particular reason, so I cancelled the OneCare installation and uninstalled PC-cillin manually. When I restarted OneCare installation afterwards, the installation failed with the error code 0019-80070643 and the offer of further support on the web – but the support pages that I was sent to want to query a “product id” from me, which I don’t have for the OneCare product.

When I got back from the odyseey through the support web pages, I hit the “Close” (or something) button in the OneCare installation window and suddenly it started “cleaning up my system”. Well, nice – why hadn’t that happened before? No idea, but after the process finished (and I had rebooted yet another time) I was able to install OneCare just fine (hey, and rebooted again, of course).

OneCare is typically Microsoft: the product seems to do its job in the background now, but it’s not the same experience of enormous flexibility that’s common in major 3rd party anti-virus and personal firewall products. One option dialog with five pages (“Tune-up”, “backup”, “viruses and spyware”, “firewall” and “logging”) and that’s it. Time will tell me if that’s a good thing or not. A technical difference I’ve noticed in comparison with ZoneAlarm is that when an application is caught communicating with the network for the first time, OneCare makes that first attempt fail for the application while showing its “allow or not” dialog, often bringing up error messages within the application itself. ZoneAlarm somehow managed to make the application wait while the user was being consulted, which seemed a better idea to me. I can imagine there are pros and cons to both approaches, but the OneCare way of doing things has the drawback that I often need to start the process once again after confirming things for OneCare – and in some cases (like XanaNews) I even have to restart the application. Of course this should happen only once… well.

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