Windows Defender is an antimalware scanner that’s been baked into Windows since the days of Windows Vista. Users may know it and dismiss it as a lightweight spyware scanner that is helpful, but by no means comprehensive. That was true of the old Windows Defender; it could never be used as a sole means of protection from malware, but that is not true of the version included in Windows 8. That’s why we decided to make a more detailed comparison and show what’s different about the new version of Windows Defender when compared with the one included in Windows 7 or Windows Vista.
I would like to start with the differences which are visible to the naked eye, before going into the more technical details. What are you likely to notice when using the new version of Windows Defender?
First Glance Comparison of Windows Defender in Windows 8 vs. Windows 7
The first time you open the new Windows Defender you’ll see right away that it’s changed quite a bit. The old version was very utilitarian. It’s main page provided plenty of information about your computer’s current status.
The new version uses the interface from Microsoft Security Essentials. You’ll notice it’s more aesthetically pleasing than its predecessor and includes controls for a system scan right on the main page.
Triggering Scans in Both Versions of Windows Defender
In the older version of Windows Defender you can trigger a quick scan for spyware by clicking the scan button from the top of the application’s window.
You can also click the down arrow next to the scan button to select a quick, full-system or custom scan.
With the new Windows Defender you can trigger a scan right from the Home tab. Select your scan type and click or tap "Scan now".
You also have the option to start a quick scan without even opening the application. Simply search for virus scan on the Start screen, select "Settings" and then click or tap "Scan for malware and other potentially unwanted software."
While both applications are easy to use, you have to remember that all scans are not created equal. While it’s easy to get the old Windows Defender going, you’ll get less benefit from it’s results. Both programs will return hits for spyware and suspicious applications, but the new version also catches viruses.
Scheduling Scans in Both Versions of Windows Defender
Another important feature for any malware scanning application is the ability to schedule a scan to run on its own. This allows you to configure the application and then forget about it. While both versions provide this service, they go about it very different ways.
In the older versions of Windows Defender, you can schedule a scan quickly and easily. You simply click "Tools" from the app’s main page, click "Options" and then select "Automatically Scan my Computer." Configure the scan and click "Save."
Unfortunately, the modern Windows Defender isn’t so straightforward. Though you can schedule a scan, you won’t find the option to do it from within the application itself. Rather, you’ll need to use the Task Scheduler. This process is a bit too involved to cover here. We’ve written an article covering it in detail. Check it out here: How to Schedule a Virus Scan with Windows 8's Built-In Antivirus
As you can see, scheduling a scan in the newest version of Windows Defender is a bit of a process. It’s a hassle, but you only have to do it once and it’s well worth the trouble.
A Version Comparison of Windows Defender in Windows 8 & Windows 7
Looking that the version information shown in the About window reveals some interesting facts.
Windows Defender in Windows 8 has two additional information fields: the Antimalware Client Version and the Antivirus Definition.
Both products have similar versions for their antispyware engine and definitions which means they will deliver similar antispyware protection.
The antivirus protection is the main differentiator of the Windows Defender client included in Windows 8.
Detailed Feature Comparison Between Old and New Windows Defender
Now that we are over with the visual overview of what’s different between the two versions, let’s look into even more detail and make a feature by feature comparison:
Both versions of Windows Defender are simple applications that serve their purpose well. For Vista and Windows 7 users it serves as a great second line of defense. But you’ll need an actual virus scanner to fully protect your system. For Windows 8 users, Windows Defender will cover your basic malware protection needs. For more information about Windows Defender, please check the articles recommended below.