Microsoft has made OneCare available to the masses today. I’ve been working with it for about a month. We even offered to add anyone while OneCare was still in a closed beta. Here are some initial impressions.

OneCare takes the approach of centralizing a lot of your maintenance tasks and tools in one interface. It’s not perfect at doing that as there is no integration with Windows Anti-Spyware (which will soon be renamed Defender). Admittedly, both products are in Beta, but the goals of these tools are so similar that it makes me scratch my head why they aren’t integrated.

OneCare runs on Windows XP and gives a system status report when you launch the program, or when you look at the icon in the system bar. Currently, my systems at work and at home receive a Good rating. Initially, I think they received a Fine rating.

Onecare’s protection comes in the form of Antivirus monitoring and a Firewall, the same one found in XP Service Pack 2. However, the firewall is integrated. As the guys from the Guinness ads say, “Brilliant!” OneCare also monitors Automatic Updates from Microsoft and your Virus Definitions. The Antivirus engine and definitions are Microsoft’s. I’ve not yet determined whether there is an active scan for viruses as Symantec and Trend Micro do.

Under the section Performance Plus, users can click on Run Tune-Up and OneCare will get rid of unneccessary files, defragment your hard disk, perform an Antivirus scan, check for computer for files requiring backup, and check for missing Microsoft Updates. Users can also ask OneCare to Check for Updates or run an Antivirus scan independently under the Protection. Initially, this may suggest a little schizophrenia to the program or weak information architecture. But, actually, it may say more about excessive engineering.

OneCare also assumes control of your Windows ISA firewall. On the one hand it makes sense that the settings are now managed through a OneCare interface, on the other hand it can be annoying if you don’t know where to look initially. After installing OneCare, I noticed that I was having problems with Remote Desktop. I went into the Firewall settings under the control panel and everything was greyed out and there was a bar at the top saying that some of my firewall settings were controlled by Group Policy. Although other computers in my domain are under Group Policy, my computer is not. I scratched my head for a while and then went back to OneCare only to discover that the third tab actually had all of my Firewall controls buried under the Advanced option.

In OneCare Microsoft has attempted to automate security as much as possible. At the same time, OneCare has some built-ins for user-level control, in order to allow obsessive compulsives to scan or check for updates manually, but also to help assure users that they are actually being protected. Arguably, conventional wisdom has it that Microsoft has an uphill battle to trod in order to convince users to secure their unsecure Microsoft systems using Microsoft hardware.

Personally, I think the defragmentation feature is wasteful. Large hard drives do not typically require defragmenting. Moreover, they are much more stable and live longer than their smaller predecessors. But there are those who would disagree, particularly old-schoolers who have long loved to have a nicely organized and pretty defragment analysis come back to them.

The Backup and Restore feature is also rather unnecessary for my purposes and I suspect many simply won’t use it. I know it’s not best practice, but this is how I live. I have two hard drives 80GB each, which contain data from various things I’ve done over the years. In all there is about 40GB total, nothing extraordinary, but it’s a disorganized mess like my home office. I use Google Desktop Search to find stuff and it works.

Backing up this data per OneCare’s recommendations and, assumably, in order to get OneCare to give my system a Clean Bill of Health, would require me either to get an external hard drive for which I don’t have money or burning a bunch of DVDs, which is tedious, and oh yes, I’ve not got a DVD burner so even if I were so masochistically inclined to need to burn 7 + DVDs (which would take how friggin’ long?), I would have to pony up for a burner first in order to do so.

[added 12/28/05]Instead of actually backing up my data, I can get a Good rating on my PC’s health by unchecking the Backup Reminder in OneCare. Now, everything is GREEN.