If you're running Windows, you need security software - it's as simple as that. Thankfully, Microsoft has stepped up to the plate and released its own package - Security Essentials.

As reported over on TechRadar, the package - which is provided to all Windows users free of charge - offers protection against viruses, spyware, and various other malicious programs under the catch-all banner of 'malware.'

The package - which is available for immediate download - is provided completely free of charge, and offers automated updates from Microsoft to ensure that the protection stays up to date. While some may question the wisdom of trusting the company that made the security holes in the software to protect those holes against attack, early reviews and previews from the beta suggest that it's a pretty comprehensive protection suite - and at approximately 6MB of memory while running in the background, it's fairly lightweight too.

Although Microsoft offers the suite without cost to users of "genuine Windows," business users are still expected to fork out for the paid-for Forefront Client Security, which offers unified reporting and central management facilities missing from Security Essentials.

Amy Barzdukas, general manager for consumer security at the company, said that its customers have told Microsoft "that they want the protection of real-time security software, but that they are confused by trials and renewals and concerned about performance and as a result, too many are unprotected. With Microsoft Security Essentials, consumers can get high quality protection that is easy-to-get, easy-to-use, and won't get in the way."

The move is likely to anger security software vendors who have made a living for years protecting Microsoft's operating system: with a completely free solution from as big a name as Microsoft, it becomes so much harder to sell a £39.99-a-year anti-virus package to end users.

Will you be trusting Microsoft to protect your Windows installation, or do you think that a third-party option would be a better choice - even if Security Essentials is free? Share your thoughts over in the forums.

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