Windows Defender is Microsoft´s free anti-malware solution integrated in Windows 10. Over the years the antivirus solution has evolved from an optional anti-spyware freeware into one of the most used anti-malware solutions worldwide.

The History of Windows Defender

After Microsoft took over GIANT Company Software, the company repackaged their product GIANT AntiSpyware as Microsoft AntiSpyware and started offering a first Beta-version end of 2005. Shortly after, Microsoft announced the re-branding to Windows Defender and that the software would be made available free-of-charge to users with Windows 2000, Windows XP, and Windows Server 2003 to secure their systems against the increasing malware threat.

About a year later, the first version of Windows Defender was released, excluding Windows 2000. Over the years Microsoft worked on integrating Windows Defender deeper into Windows which then became a built-in anti-spyware component in Windows Vista and Windows 7.

Parallel to Windows Defender, Microsoft offered Microsoft Security Essentials as an optional Antivirus program which could be installed as a free replacement-upgrade for Windows Defender in Windows Vista and Windows 7.

Beginning with Windows 8, Microsoft integrated the antivirus engine of Microsoft Security Essentials into Windows Defender, making it a fully functional anti-malware solution packaged with Windows.

Since Windows 10, Windows Defender is deeply integrated into the system, providing various separate modules for protecting PCs against multiple threats. Like the Windows Firewall, it´s antivirus-engine can be optionally replaced by products from other vendors like Kaspersky.

Many users have no full understanding of the feature-set of Windows Defender and are unsure if installing an anti-malware solution – free or commercial is needed. Let´s have a look on what protection is offered by Windows Defender. Then you can decide if you should consider commercial solutions like Bitdefender or Kaspersky.

Features of Windows Defender

Windows Defender offers the following basic features which can be found in most of the existing antimalware-products.

Real-time protection – The real-time protection module of Windows Defender scans every downloaded, copied and opened file or software against known malware-code definitions and is using machine learning to predict and warn against potentially malicious files. Malware definitions are constantly updated by Microsoft and sent as small update packages to Windows-PCs via Windows Update.

Full-Scan – Windows Defender can be used with a quick scan to spot malware in common locations. A full-scan is available for deeper analysis of all existing drives. Using Windows Task Planner, full or quick scans can be scheduled periodically as well.

Browser integration – Windows Defender integrates with Microsofts own Edge Browser to protect against possible or known malware and phishing-websites. An optional addon allows to integrate Windows Defender also with Google Chrome.

Browser Sandbox – In Windows 10 Pro and Windows 10 Enterprise Windows Defender Application Guard allows to sandbox any browsing session in Microsoft Edge to separate the Web-Browser completely from other parts of the operating system.

How good is Windows Defender´s malware-protection?

According to independent lab-tests of antimalware-solutions, Windows Defender offers excellent detection rates against 0-day malware attacks, inclusive of web and e-mail threats and known malware.

In comparison to other antivirus-solutions – commercial or free – there is little difference when it comes to protection against malware. While in the past, Microsoft´s own antivirus fell behind leading commercial products.

A different story is if you are looking for additional protections modules and cleanup-tools usually bundled with third party products, like registry or disk cleaners, family-safety, file encryption etc.

Last usability of Windows Defender might be another factor worth looking at. Here, most of the other anti-malware solutions provide more features and easier handling.