July 28, 2008

Computer Crash -2: ZoneAlarm and Norton and AVG Firewalls and AntiVirus

Zone Alarm Pro and Norton Security Suite gets lots of good reviews online - until you have a crash and you start reading the Forums and talking with techs. Some things I learned during my two computer crashes this month:

1. If you try to un-install either Zone Alarm or Norton, good luck. Both programs throw bits of themselves throughout your hard drive, and using their basic "uninstall" doesn't get rid of this stuff. While I was on the phone with ZoneAlarm, their "uninstall" caused my laptop to crash ... their tech was of no help here, he almost sounded more scared than I was.

2. Norton actually has a free download to get rid of the rest of its stuff, check it out at the Symantec site. Its name? The Norton Removal Tool.

3. ZoneAlarm does not provide a free download - removal tool. Instead, you have to manually go into the drive, and delete things from several different sources, stored under a variety of file names. True Vector doesn't get uninstalled when you do the basic Zone Alarm uninstall; its files are stored under prefixes that have nothing to do with ZA, Zone, etc. There are tech forums that give you the list of ZoneAlarm files to go delete, but they may not be complete for your version. I still have some Zone files in my laptop registry, for example, that my tech buddy has to remove.

3. Windows updates and firewalls can fight each other, and you're the loser. For example, ZoneAlarm denied access to the web for anyone who had the Windows update installed earlier this month - and ZoneAlarm issued an update to its own software to fix this problem (this upgrade also caused my laptop to crash; it was a very bad day). Same trouble for Norton firewalls, etc.

Solution? Techs I spoke with said they never allow automatic updates from Windows -- they have gone into ControlPanel and selected manual updating. This allows them to wait a few days, see if the Windows release is smooth, or if it causes problems. Like the one this month with all those firewalls ....

4. All the techs that I dealt with during my Computer Crash Experience (and there were a lot) were unanimous: they did not recommend using either ZoneAlarm or Norton. It was really a toss-up for which product was the most reviled - but I think Norton won on that score.

Two of the most knowledgeable techs had no antivirus system on their machines - or any of their families' machines. Never a problem, and they've been going without an antivirus software package for many years now (one guy, for five; another, for seven). As for firewalls, Windows has its own and most felt this was sufficient. Unless you're going to spooky sites, or keeping your "preview pane" open in your email, the techs didn't think there was a real problem. In their opinion, ZoneAlarm and Norton all too often produce the very virus result that they are sold to prevent.

5. If you just can't sleep without an antivirus program running, the techs all recommended AVG. AVG is free.

AVG gets glowing reviews, and offers a LinkScanner that works with Google, Yahoo, etc. so your search results automatically have okey-dokeys and warnings by the site names, before you click on them.

6. While the techs did hate Vista, they did report that Vista has lots of security stuff that XP, 2000, etc. do not have. Personally, I haven't had any problems with Vista, and it does have lots of security stuff here that I like.

Bottom line? On my third, brand-new computer, I'm running with Windows Vista and I did install the free AVG. I'm happy. I will never, ever use or recommend ZoneAlarm or Norton to anyone after my July Crash experience.

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