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2/6/2006
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Review: ZoneAlarm Security Suite

Despite some glitches with downloading antispyware updates and a frustrating interface, ZoneAlarm provides protection that few competitors can match.

One of the hazards of writing deadline-driven reviews is that with longer experience, a product sometimes surpasses — or falls short — of the conclusions drawn in the heat of the moment. Occasionally after months of real-world use of products, dialog with vendors, and your feedback, a product needs a second look. In that spirit, this is an update to my September review of ZoneAlarm Security Suite 6.0.

I continue to have a high regard for ZoneAlarm, enough so that I still rely on it for a computer I use to visit some of the nastier, malware-infected destinations on the Internet. At the same time, a couple of weaknesses of ZoneAlarm still need to be better addressed by the software publisher.

My biggest concern is that downloading antispyware files has been unreliable, even though downloading antivirus updates has worked well. A ZoneAlarm representative suggested that I download a free upgrade that addressed this issue. I did so. Unfortunately, while one antispyware update succeeded after the upgrade, five did not. On the plus side, the successful antispyware download found two spyware programs. My instinct was that I had spyware on my system, but finding it on my own had been elusive.




The user interface for the ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite is clean, but it can be hard to find some information.
Click to Enlarge

A secondary but significant concern involves the somewhat confusing user interface. For example, the Overview page of the program accurately said that several email attachments had been quarantined. I could find some details about these attachments on the Alerts & Logs page. But while that page is helpful, it contains much other information that’s a challenge to wade through. It continues to frustrate me that the Quarantine tab on the Anti-virus/Anti-spyware page gives no clue about quarantined email attachments.

A ZoneAlarm representative acknowledged this inconsistency and agreed to consider a related product improvement. He also noted that, for quarantined email attachments, the current work-around is to click on the attachment in your email program, which allows you to decide what to do with a specific file attachment.

At best, all of this is confusing. I had to resort to solutions independent of ZoneAlarm to salvage valid email attachments while avoiding malware attachments. Much of my effort relied on experience gathered through 20 years of computing rather than help from ZoneAlarm.

The upgrade experience itself, on the other hand, was mostly delightful. I was impressed by the techie protections that the upgrade used to guard against malware attempts to “upgrade” ZoneAlarm for their own purposes. I didn’t, however, appreciate the installation queries about configuration settings I’d previously established. After all, I selected the installation option to upgrade my current version rather than the “clean install” option. I’d carefully considered my answers months ago and didn’t appreciate answering the same questions again.

Since my last review, ZoneAlarm hasn’t added obvious new features, instead focusing on hardening its security protection. That’s a good thing. So for now, here’s my advice:

  • If you currently rely on ZoneAlarm and have had no problems, do nothing.
  • If you use ZoneAlarm but have had some anomalies, grab the free upgrade. If that doesn’t solve your problem, direct complaints both to its publisher and to me.
  • If you don’t currently have a comprehensive security suite to augment the features in Microsoft Windows, ZoneAlarm deserves consideration despite its current warts. ZoneAlarm provides protection that few competitors currently match -- and in today’s Internet world, comprehensive protection is essential. That requires taking the bad with the good.


ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 6.0
Zone Labs, LLC
www.zonelabs.com
Price: $69.95
Summary:While glitches remain with downloading antispyware updates and the interface still frustrates ZoneAlarm provides protection few competitors match.

J.W. Olsen has been a full-time IT author, columnist, editor, and freelance book project manager with more than 1000 editorial credits since 1990, and has provided computer, Web site, and editorial services to other clients since 1985. He welcomes feedback via the response form at www.jwolsen.com.

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