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Technology Today  October 2005
by Robert Sanborn

Having tried a lot of different anti virus and firewall programs over the years, I finally settled on a combination that I felt would give me the best protection for my computers at home. For Anti Virus, I settled on the Symantec Norton program which over the years has offered the best level of protection and prevention available. Granted that every once in a while, they have serious lapses of judgment in what I think are the right ways to build software, but for the most part, have protected my system very well and that is what I used on my main system. For a firewall program, I settled early on with Zone Labs Zone Alarm system. For those of us on the budget minded trail, they offered one of the best programs you can get for the best price, free to a good home. And despite the problems of the newer versions which can catch all of us now and then, I decided that for my home work system, I wanted to go with the Internet Security Suite that Zone Labs offers which will give me a protection level higher than the two programs I had used before. 

Installing it was very simple and I have to say easy for me because I was in the process of building a new work computer for me and starting from scratch with the Security Suite made sense. I have heard lots of grumbling about problems with updates from prior versions and in fact, had held off in updating the free version of Zone Alarm for those very reasons that as critical as this system was to me, I wanted no snags in software getting in the way of a computer that was running my business and life. 

The installation is simple. You start it up and like prior Zone Labs programs, gives you a very good summary of what it is doing as it does it. Enter your license key and the program then steps you through each phase like the Smart Defense Advisor that will automatically update the program to catch spyware and the like.  They do give you the warning that if you had installed any other anti virus programs, you must uninstall them before installing the security suite. 

Some new features you will find as you start the install process and here I wish that it would give you a spot for getting more information. For instance, the Email Junk Filter feature for Outlook is an excellent feature that tries to weed out the spam mail in your system as it comes in but didnít tell me what it was going to do with it, I had to look into the manual to find out that it creates new junk mail folders for you. Another new feature is the Instant Messenger Security to ensure your conversations on IM are private. Since I use Trilliamís instant messenger program, I will be interested to see if it covers that as well as AOL, MSN, and Yahoo.  

A privacy control is also included to block pop ups, banner ads, and third party cookies. Again in the past, I have used Googleís toolbar to block up Pop Ups and relied on Internet Explorerís security settings for banner ads and third party cookies but it is nice to have this bundled in a single place. 

Once the computer is restarted, you can watch a simple video about how zone alarm works and protects your computer. Pretty slick. Once I got things up and running, I did notice that the Windows Security message was up telling me my anti virus files were out of date. Click on the Zone Alarm box and you can easily check the Anti Virus file listing and sure enough, they were out of date so there is a quick update there. I suspect that if I had waited a while, it would have done that automatically but when I did the update, the security message disappeared.  As I continued to use the program, I did notice that it did update both the spyware and anti virus definitions on a regular basis. 

If you click on Overview in the main ZA window, you will see a good summary of the status of each component. Donít be surprised to see a large number of programs already granted access to the internet. Incredible to see how much software phones home these days. Hit the product info tab and you will see the dates of your files, product level, and when your subscription expires. Normally, you are good for a year if you buy the program which sells for around $60. 

There are some annoyances with the program. One being that it seems that anytime an installer program starts up, it will let you know but it is sometimes a bit cryptic as those installers often donít really tell you what program started them up. You just make the rash assumption that since you clicked on setup for a program and the ZA alarm pops up, they must be related. But it sure would be nice someday to have it figure it out for itself that yes, you are installing a new program so it wonít have to keep telling me. 

Of course, when you get it working for a few days, it will settle itself to the point where you hardly see anything going on and that is what you hope that a good anti virus and spyware program will do for you.  Having read a lot of email messages regarding problems upgrading to the newer version of Zone Alarm, I took the easy route of installing it from scratch and that worked just fine.  Though if you do decide to give it a try, be sure to uninstall your old software first. It just makes life easier. As a long time user of the firewall program, I am very satisfied with it and it does seem to be doing a good job of keeping things clean so if you are looking to make a switch with your anti virus program, by all means take a good close look at Zone Labs. www.zonelabs.com.  

Short Takes 

Built a new Media Center PC the other day and ran into some interesting things.  It came with the new Microsoft Bluetooth Keyboard and Mouse combination and there are some plusses and minuses with it. First of all, it is a big keyboard but I like typing on it.   Comfortable feel to it and there is a zillion buttons that will take weeks to figure out.  What is strange though is that if the keyboard sits idle for any length of time, it will go to sleep so to speak as I suspect the Bluetooth connection (which in this case comes with a little USB device), wakes up.  Same for the mouse. I donít like the mouse that came with it as much as I do the regular Microsoft Optical Intellimouse. Too many sharp edges for me, and it is a heavy mouse, so not that easy to glide around the desktop with but like anything else, I am getting use to it. But it is sure nice to just be able to pick up the keyboard and mouse and move it anywhere else when cleaning, rearranging equipment and the like. And I do like not having the cords in the way especially after diving through the mass of cords in the back of the computer. 

The other downside is that both devices run on batteries. I am using rechargeable AA types in the mouse and regular alkaline batteries in the keyboard and will see how long they last.  When I built this system, I used an In-Win case for the first time and discovered a few flaws. While a very sleek looking case using the new BTX form type mainboard, I found that when I installed the mainboard, it is not close enough to the back plate making it difficult to keep a keyboard or mouse connected via the usual PS/2 type ports. In this case, having the Bluetooth connectors for them made it unnecessary to use those ports but sometimes, you really need a real keyboard plugged into that port to start your computer. The other problem was that the DVD burner I used (Plextor) would fit in the case just fine but the button on the front of the case needs to be pushed really hard to get it to open the door. I resorted to having a short cut to the drive on the desktop to right click on it and say eject.  Another minor snag is that I canít tell when the DVD drive is active or not because the activity light on it is hidden behind the door.  This is also a pretty noisy case considering all the hoops I went through trying to quiet down my old computer so I need to start looking for quieter BTX type CPU Fans. Sometimes I hate trying out new stuff. 

Having gone through the troubles of updating my computer, I can tell you that it can be a real pain. I try very hard to keep track of all of my install CDs for programs and the like but you know, with so many opportunities to buy these useful utilities on the web, you really need to work at keeping track of them.  What even gets worse is the problem of finding and keeping track of all the updates. Life gets pretty easy for me because I have a cable modem for high speed internet access so I can easily click on a program and tell it to update itself and I donít care if that update is 20 meg or higher. But what if you donít have a high speed connection. The way things update themselves, it is going to take you weeks to get caught up again. 

My recommendation here is that if you have a chance, buy the boxed version of the software, that way you will have it to reinstall if things go bad. Same with updates if you can. The other alternative is to see if you can download the updates (especially the major ones), and then save them to a Downloads Folder on your computer for later use.

The new DVD burner is great. I wish I hadnít stalled so long to get one installed. Having the capacity of 4.7 gigabytes to back up files is so much nicer than the 700mb for a CD I really wish I had switched earlier. Now if the prices on the media would come down even more, then  I could start using the double layer feature and get 8+ gig onto a disc.

Robert Sanborn is a technology analyst for PC Lifeline. You can reach him through the net at robert@pcll.com


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