Microsoft has announced a beta release of the next generation of its free Security Essentials package for Windows, bringing a taste of future features.

Announced by Brandon LeBlanc on the company's Windows Team blog, the new edition of the Security Essentials anti-malware package brings a host of new features to the platform - some of which are considerably more impressive than others.

The first feature LeBlanc describes is, perhaps, the most underwhelming: during setup of the new beta release, Security Essentials will "now ask if you would like to turn the Windows Firewall on or off."

Thankfully, after headlining with that damp squib, the feature list starts to look a little more exciting: deeper integration with Internet Explorer provides "protection against web-based threats," although there's no mention of support for such protection in third-party browsers; a new protection engine "offers enhanced detection and cleanup capabilities with better performance," which should please those for whom ever CPU cycle is precious; and most impressively a network inspection system which offers "protection against network-based exploits."

Sadly, the network inspection system feature relies on the Windows Filtering Platform in order to do its protective magic - meaning that while Windows Vista and Windows 7 users can enjoy enhanced security from attack, Windows XP users are left out in the cold. LeBlanc consoles those still running XP with the knowledge that the beta will still install under XP and "you can still use all other beta features."

The beta is already available for download, but requires registration into the programme. A limited number of spots are available, and will be allocated to "genuine Windows users on a first come, first serve basis."

Are you impressed with the features listed in the Security Essentials beta, or do you still struggle with the idea that you should trust the company that made the security flaws to protect you from the security flaws? Share your thoughts over in the forums.
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