Tag Archives: ZoneAlarm

We’re Not in the Business of Understanding our User

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A few years ago I wrote about sometimes your product is useful to people in ways you didn’t know—and that you’d be smart to recognise that and capitalize on itn (What Your Product Does You Might Not Know About, 2007).

One of the examples I cited was ZoneAlarm, a very popular firewall that was bought by Check Point. The point I made with their product was how useful the Windows system tray icon was in that it doubled as a network activity monitor. The logo, in short, would switch to a twin gauge when there was traffic. Really useful: it wasn’t directly related to the actual function of the firewall, but for most people that’s academic. If the firewall’s up and running and traffic is showing through it, everything must be good.

The dual-purpose icon was a confidence-boosting measure, a symbol that the purpose of the product—to keep the network safe—was actually being fulfilled.

Not any more. A message on the ZoneAlarm User Community forum indicates that as of March this year the icon will not double as a network monitor. In response to questions from users a moderator wrote:

Its not going to be fixed in fact its going to be removed from up comming [sic] ZA version 10
So this will be a non issue going forward.
ZoneAlarm is not in the buiness [sic] of showing internet activity.
Forum Moderator

So there you have it. A spellchecker-challenged moderator tells it as it is. Zone Alarm is now just another firewall, with nothing to differentiate it and nothing to offer the user who’s not sure whether everything is good in Internet-land. Somebody who didn’t understand the product and the user saved a few bucks by cutting the one feature that made a difference to the user.

Check Point hasn’t covered itself in glory, it has to be said. I reckon one can directly connect the fall in interest in their product with the purchase by Check Point of Zone Labs in December 2003 (for $200 million). Here’s what a graph of search volume looks like for zonealarm since the time of the purchase. Impressive, eh?

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Of course, this also has something to do with the introduction of Windows’ own firewall, which came out with XP SP2 in, er, 2004. So good timing for Zone Labs but not so great for Check Point.

Which is why they should have figured out that the one thing that separated Zone Alarm from other firewalls was the dual purpose icon. So yes, you are in the business of showing Internet activity. Or were.

(PS Another gripe: I tried the Pro version on trial and found that as soon as the trial was over, the firewall closed down. It didn’t revert to the free version; it just left my computer unprotected. “Your computer is unprotected,” it said. Thanks a bunch!)

When Firewalls Move

Here’s the details on the Zone Alarm deal I promised a couple of days back:

Effective immediately, Sygate and Kerio users switching to ZoneAlarm Pro will receive a $20 instant rebate, over 40% off the retail price of $49.95. “A firewall is the most essential, fundamental element of protection against hackers,” said Laura Yecies, general manager of Zone Labs and vice president at Check Point. “Innovation in firewall development is critical, because threats are dynamic and ever-changing. Consumers must seek a solution that is not only vendor-supported but has new features added regularly to protect against novel attack strategies.”

Of course, there’s still the free version.

And here’s details of the purchase by Sunbelt Software of Kerio:

Sunbelt Software and Kerio Technologies Inc. today announced that the parties have signed an agreement for Sunbelt to acquire the Kerio Personal Firewall. The acquisition is expected to be finalized by the end of the month.

The Kerio Personal Firewall will be re-branded on an interim basis as the “Sunbelt Kerio Personal Firewall”. All existing customers of the Kerio Personal Firewall will be able to receive support through Sunbelt once the acquisition is completed.

Upon the close of the deal, Sunbelt will also announce new reduced pricing for the full version of the product and a variety of special offers for both Kerio and Sunbelt customers. Additionally, Sunbelt will continue Kerio’s tradition of providing a basic free version for home users.

Zone Labs to Offer Sygate, Kerio Users a Deal

From a press release emailed to me by Zone Labs, makers of Zone Alarm:

The personal firewall market is currently undergoing a major shift, with Symantec set to retire the Sygate line of personal firewalls tomorrow (including the free version and Sygate Pro), and Kerio discontinuing its personal firewall at the end of December to pursue an enterprise strategy. […] In order to help consumers affected by recent events, Zone Labs will be announcing a new promotion to Sygate and Kerio users later this week to ensure that consumers have essential firewall protection available at an affordable price.

Not clear what kind of offer yet, but I’ll let you know.

ZoneAlarm’s Impressive About-turn, Or How To Do Blog PR Right

A day ago I vented my disappointment at a sneaky marketing gambit inside ZoneAlarm’s otherwise excellent free firewall software, which scared the user into running an external spyware scanner in the hope of getting them to upgrade. This morning I received word from their PR department that this promotion “has been turned off. The wording was not optimal, and we sincerely regret any inconvenience or frustrations it caused our users. Also, your story has prompted us to create a new approval process for any outbound promotions including multiple departments, to ensure that we maintain the highest integrity in our marketing efforts.”

I’m very impressed. I’m not suggesting my post prompted this — it sounds like it was in the works anyway — but this kind of close and timely monitoring of blogs is just the kind of iniatitive PR departments should be involved in, and just what I was going on about in a recent diatribe about Nokia, who seem little interested in customers who have less than perfect experience in the company’s ‘Care Centres’.

Good work, ZoneAlarm.

ZoneAlarm’s Sneaky Spyware Scare?

(See a more recent post on this for an update. ZoneAlarm no longer has this ‘feature’.)

I’m a big fan, and user, of ZoneAlarm firewalls. Their interface is clean, clear and I like the system tray icon which doubles as a traffic monitor. But sometimes they do things that don’t, in my view, help educate and simplify things for the ordinary user. After all, Internet security is already baffling enough.

I use the free version of ZoneAlarm firewall and usually it works fine and unobtrusively. But just now I got a popup window like this:

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At first glance it looks like an ordinary update reminder, which would be fine. But it’s not. It seems to suggest, to the casual user, that something bad is happening to your computer. To the more experienced user it looks like one of those naff anti-spyware ads that appear on websites with a faux Windows-dialog suggesting you’re infected with spyware. (Notice there’s no option along the lines of ‘Never remind or show me this popup again. I have enough on my plate, thanks.’)

Click on ‘update now’ and you’re taken, surprise surprise, to a ZoneAlarm promotions page. To be fair to ZoneAlarm, if you’re running IE a scan will kick in (it won’t if you’re using Opera, Netscape or Mozilla as it’s an ActiveX application). Once spyware is detected, it’s not quite clear what you’re supposed to do next. Click on a ‘Remove Spyware Now’ link and you’re faced with a pop-up link pitching a ‘featured bundle’ of ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite and TurboBackup for $50. Click on a red button marked ‘REMOVE SPYWARE with ZoneAlarm’ and you’re taken to the same pop-up (Yes, they seem to somehow get around the builtin IE popup blocker.) As far as I can see there is no other way to remove the alleged spyware.

This is all, I believe, part of ZoneAlarm’s new product,  ZoneAlarm Anti-Spyware, which it launched recently. I just wish that ZoneAlarm, which I’ve had quarrels with before, didn’t stoop to such befuddling scare tactics to tout a new product.  

A Free Zone Alarm?

For firewalls, I always recommend Zone Alarm from ZoneLabs. To my mind it’s still the best and most intuitive firewall around. But most people only need the free version. And that’s where the problem is. Why do ZoneLabs make it so hard for ordinary users to download it?

Readers and friends who have tried to download the free version often seem to run into problems, and download the ‘free trial’ version or some other less-than-free version of the software. As I recommend Zone Alarm, and thought that ZoneLabs had agreed to make this easer after earlier complaints, I thought I should check it out.

It’s true that it’s not easy. The Free ZoneAlarm and trials link is there in the top half of the screen, but it’s below another ‘freebie’, a Spyware Detector (more of that anon). The list of ZoneAlarm Security Products that are now available does not include a link to the free version, and the big link to the ZoneAlarm Security Suite page which dominates the top half of the screen contains no links to the free version. Neither does the download page. So unless you happen to see the link on the homepage, you’ve pretty much lost the chance to get the free download.

And even then, should you make it to the ‘Free Downloads’ page, you’ll have to scroll down to the end of the list, past five other mentions of the word ‘free’ to find the free version. Made it that far? You still have to skip past another tripwire before you make it home without removing your wallet. The first link on that page is to a link: FREE! Scan My PC for Spyware Before Downloading ZoneAlarm® (Recommended) that sounds, to a casual user, almost part of the download process. (What they don’t tell you is that the scan is for free, but you’ll have to shell out $30 to remove the ‘spyware, keyloggers, cookies, adware, browser help objects and other pests’ that the scan will find. My scan found 48 items of ‘spyware’ — all but two of them cookies, which is pushing the definition a little. (The other two were MS Media Player ID files, which are worth removing, according to CA and Kephyr.)

This is a shame because, while I can understand ZoneLabs need to make a buck, the free version is an excellent shop window for ZoneLabs. And users shouldn’t be misled by ‘recommended’ links to other software that looks free, but isn’t really. Bottom line: If you’re not educating the user but trying to get their money through stealth or obfuscation, then you’re not part of the solution.

Zone Labs Snapped Up – Firewalls R Us?

My favourite firewall, Zone Alarm, is being bought by another firewall maker, Check Point Software Technologies [CNet News.com].

It looks to me as if there’s quite significant consolidation within the security software industry, not just from the point of view of big guys buying the smaller guys, but of companies trying to create products that offer an all-round ‘security solution’. Symantec have long peddled this type of idea, but their 2004 embodiments have increased the coverage to include cutting out spam, spyware and even pop-ups. With Check Point focusing on server-side software it makes sense that they grab Zone Labs, whose strength is software for desktops and notebooks.

Expect to see software companies trying to push more integrated software that offers this kind of overall solution to corporates and to ISPs. While it obviously makes sense for companies to farm out these kind of problems — viruses, spam, any kind of disrupting influence on their networks — to single companies. Internet Service Providers will doubtless see a market to sell something similar to the individual user, keeping such rubbish out of their inbox and away from other subscribers.

My only worry is that such ‘packaged solutions’ may not offer the best individual component: Just because a company makes all the products you need, doesn’t mean they’re all great. I use Norton Antivirus but stick with Zone Alarm because it tells me more about what’s going on.

Software: An Alternative Firewall to ZoneAlarm?

 Aaron Heskel from Belgium suggests Agnitum’s OutPost as an alternative to ZoneLabs’ ZoneAlarm firewall. I’ll definitely check it out.
 
 
As with ZoneAlarm, there’s a free version which may be enough for most folks. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Software: A Way To Avoid The Messaging Nasties

 Do a lot of online chat, or instant messaging (IM)? If you do, you’re as vulnerable to nasty folk trying to do nasty things to your computer as using email, including viruses, worms and other ways to get information from your PC, take over your PC or just to make it stop working.
 
 
The good news is that Zone Labs, who make the excellent Zone Alarm firewall (a firewall is a piece of software that tries to keep out some of these nasties), will today launch a product to specifically target IM threats to your computer. IMsecure Pro 1.0 IM traffic and blocks malicious code and spam, encrypts messages sent between IMsecure users and allows users to set rules on outgoing messages and block features such as file transfers and voice and video chats.
 
IMsecure Pro works with Yahoo’s Messenger, Microsoft’s MSN Messenger, and America Online’s AOL Instant Messenger and costs $19.95. A free, dressed-down version of the product for personal and nonprofit users will be available by the end of the month. Given how useful Zone Alarm is, I’d keep an eye out for this. At the time of writing the product had not been posted.