Microsoft’s product naming frustrates me to no end. They seem to have an incredible knack for picking the most confusing names possible.
While the names Microsoft Security Essentials and Windows Defender seem innocuous enough, what they mean has changed over time. And therein lies the confusion.
Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!
Microsoft Security Essentials
Let’s start with the easy one – this name has remained relatively unambiguous over time.
This is where things get weird.
Windows Defender was originally an anti-spyware tool only. In those days, you needed to also install an anti-virus tool. MSE was one such solution, but because it included an anti-spyware tool, it replaced Windows Defender.
Today, however, Windows Defender is the new name for the version of Microsoft Security Essentials that comes pre-installed on Windows 8.
So today, Windows Defender and Microsoft Security Essentials are essentially the same thing (so to speak). The difference is which version of Windows that they apply to and how you get them: Windows Defender is pre-installed in Windows 8 and Microsoft Security Essentials is a free download from Microsoft… unless you’re talking about Windows Defender Offline. That’s something else entirely different.
Windows Defender Offline
Windows Defender Offline is a version of Windows Defender that you burn to a CD or install to a USB thumb drive. You can then boot from that CD or drive and run Windows Defender without having to actually run the copy of Windows that’s installed on your machine.
More importantly, by booting from something other than your hard drive, it bypasses any of the malware that might be on your machine. The result is that Windows Defender can do a more complete job of cleaning things up.
Windows Defender Offline is a free download from Microsoft. The download walks you through the steps to create the CD or USB thumb drive.
Oh, and to complete the whole naming saga: Windows Defender Offline was originally called Microsoft Standalone System Sweeper.