Microsoft's free antivirus software nears public release

Microsoft's free antivirus product, "Security Essentials", is leaving beta and a final version will be released "in the coming weeks", according to an email sent to participants in the beta test.

Although it's not been officially available in the UK, British users with an MSN account set to America have had access since the beta began in June. The release candidate has now been rolled out to those testers - version 1.0.1500.0 - so if you're running the older 1.0.1407.0 then now is the time to update.

Microsoft has said that Security Essentials will offer a very basic level of protection against a wide range of viruses. It won't offer the encryption, firewalls, password storage, parental controls and backup services that high end security software includes.

Microsoft's ambitions towards free antivirus are expected to hurt sales of Symantec and McAfee products, but will probably hit already-free apps like Avast! and AVG even harder. We'll let you know when it becomes fully available.