Microsoft Windows Live OneCare 2 review

Price when reviewed

OneCare has been around for almost two years now, and so far it’s had a painful upbringing. Version 1.5 failed to impress our Labs team a few months back. Version 2 is now with us, but brings little new with it. It’s billed as an “all-in-one security and performance service” designed to appeal to the novice and families, but it’s still a dissatisfying hotch-potch.

Because for truly accurate results antivirus testing demands that competing packages are assessed at the same time, we’ll hold off on a definitive judgement until our next Labs test. But there’s no getting away from a few of OneCare’s anti-virus flaws. It still fails to scan emails as they arrive in your inbox, preferring to wait until you open them to do its checking. On the face of it that’s an efficient approach but it means you can have virus-laden emails sitting in your inbox undetected, which could potentially be forwarded on.


When a virus-infected email is detected, the disinfection process is a long way from snappy, taking anything up to a minute to complete, although the average time is more like 20-30 seconds; an improvement over the last version. And we weren’t prompted to reboot at any point after disinfection, which was a major irritation previously.

Being aimed at family-home setups, OneCare introduces the cutesy-pie idea of the “OneCare circle”. Designate one of your OneCare-equipped PCs as a hub and, from that machine, you can see the security status of the others in your home network, as well as fixing security problems (for instance a deactivated firewall) remotely.

The centralised backup tool also allows you to gather backup data in one place and unlike Windows’ default backup tool, it makes backups into a standard compressed zip archive. That means you can restore files without OneCare if necessary. It works well enough, but three PCs is your limit. If you have just one more you’ll need to fork out for another complete copy of OneCare: there’s no discount policy.

It’s when you go beyond security and backup that OneCare’s value for money starts looking seriously shaky.

The remainder of its features are largely alternative ways of accessing functions already present in both Windows XP and Vista. The front of the retail box shouts about “Online ID Theft Protection”, when literally all this does is activate Internet Explorer 7’s phishing filter.

Among its other purported tricks is a system performance tune-up. If you’re expecting clever new ways of enhancing your PC though, you’re going to be disappointed; the tool does more or less the same as the standard Windows Disk Clean-up wizard.


It “removes unnecessary files” and defragments the hard disk, and beyond that all it does is a virus scan, a backup pass and checks for Windows critical updates. Dig into the Settings dialog and you’ll find a Tuneup tab, which adds the ability to accelerate system start-up times. Don’t get excited by that either though: all it does is let you disable programs set to load at start up.

You can achieve exactly the same effect for free with Windows’ msconfig application. OneCare simply provides a slightly better-looking interface to what’s already there.

And – astonishingly – one of the features actually requires you to shell out even more money before you can use it. Yes, the online photo backup facility allows you to back up 10GB of photos to Microsoft’s servers, for which privilege it will charge you an extra £38 inc VAT per year.

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