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Microsoft is extending the availability of its freebie Microsoft Security Essentials to small businesses from early next month.

The application - which provides protection against viruses, spyware, and other malicious software - was launched as a basic scanner available to consumers at no charge last September. From October, small businesses running up to 10 PCs can use the technology without charge.

Microsoft explained: "This extended availability to small businesses centers on a change to the End User Licensing Agreement (EULA) that allows small business customers to legally download the software onto individually managed business PCs."

Redmond is continuing to offer its Forefront client suite, which offers improved manageability, to larger businesses. More detail on the deal can be found on Microsoft's SMB Community blog here.

The move out of the consumer market into the small business area could result in lost sales for the likes of Symantec, McAfee, Panda and Kaspersky, which use the likes of PC World to sell to small businesses.

The current stable release of MSE is version 1. In late July Microsoft released the beta version of Microsoft Security Essentials 2.0, offering a souped-up engine, better protection against web-based threats and a network intrusion detection system designed for Windows Vista and Windows 7. Early tests of the software by av-test.org praised it for good malware detection and very few false positives.

MSSE is not a resource hog but system performance showed only marginal improvements between version 1 and version 2, while real world (0day) protection was patchy. 18 out of the 25 malware attacks were blocked by Internet Explorer’s SmartScreenFilter or with traditional virus signatures, AV-test.org reports. ®

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