When Windows Live OneCare first emerged, it was somewhat misunderstood.

Microsoft's goal was to create a one-stop maintenance application that applied software updates, performed drive checking, and offered firewall and malware protection.

The aim was good, the execution less so, with some common infections falling through the net. Now that it's reached version 2.0 has there been any improvement?

Effective protection

The most notable step forward is that OneCare now provides effective protection against viruses and spyware, easily equalling that provided by its competitors. The firewall also offers adequate shielding against hackers and it's easy to enable and configure.

The OneCare icon in the System tray gives you an at-a-glance indication of your computer's health. Green means good, yellow means some items need attention and red means that your PC needs urgent action.

Double-click this icon to see the full status page. This provides information on the last malware scan and update, when your PC was last tuned up and when your data was last backed up. You can also see the firewall status and whether the phishing filter in Internet Explorer is on or not.

OneCare Subscription

When you install Windows Live OneCare 2.0 you'll need to sign up for a OneCare subscription, which is tied to a Windows Live account. This is the same as your Messenger or Hotmail account.

A standard OneCare subscription covers up to three computers, which you can manage from a hub PC if they're connected to a home network.

If you set a computer to be a hub then you can view the status of the other connected computers with OneCare installed and fix problems with them remotely. There's no more need to rely on family members to keep up with their PC maintenance.

Hub computers can also be used to store backups from other machines on the network. The computers you have covered are described as being in your OneCare circle. If you need to cover more than three computers then you'll need to buy another subscription.

Care for your network

Remote monitoring of computers on a home network is a common feature that's offered in the current crop of security suites, with the offerings from Norton, McAfee and Trend Micro including similar protection.

However, OneCare also provides simplified networking facilities, managing wireless encryption and printer sharing for you.

This makes the most common irritations associated with home networking more or less go away. It checks that computers are using the appropriate printer driver on all shared PCs.

Easy encryption

It can also set up wireless encryption automatically in some cases, providing the encryption key on a USB flash drive. Where this isn't possible, it can generate a printed page of clear instructions for adding computers to your network, even if they aren't in your OneCare circle.

Encryption is limited to the less-secure WEP version mainly for compatibility reasons. The option for users to choose WPA encryption instead is an obvious area for improvement.

User-friendly security

The notable strength of OneCare is in providing a simple, non-technical solution for small home networks to provide adequate security and maintenance.

If you're obsessive about either topic or have a very technical mind then there are better options available, especially if you're prepared to source individual tools for each job.

However, domestic security products appeal to people who just want the job taken care of. OneCare does this admirably and at a reasonable price, too.