Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Time may be running out for a 64-bit Vista-based ZoneAlarm

Download ZoneAlarm Pro Beta for Windows XP and 32-bit Vista from FileForum now.

The difficulty for third-party developers to produce security software for the most feature-rich Vista kernel continues to this day, and a lack of news from ZoneAlarm suggests it could persist well into next year.

At one time, ZoneAlarm was among the single most downloaded pieces of software, of any category whatsoever, in the entire world. But for well over a year after Microsoft's release of the 64-bit version of Windows Vista, whose kernel includes significant upgrades for security purposes, there still is no 64-bit edition of the ZoneAlarm firewall that works on Vista.

And the product's current manufacturer, Check Point Software Technologies, remains as secretive and as cryptic as some of the stealthy packages its own products hunt down, as to when a 64-bit Vista edition is forthcoming, or even if there will be one this year.

For months, the official word from the company had been that such an edition would be released "in 2008," and the only official tailoring of that message shifted that target to "the end of 2008." Then Check Point unveiled its latest Zone Alarm Pro 8.0 beta on Monday...without the 64-bit version.

Last week, in response to the latest inquiry from a user, among threads in Check Point's forums that are now over a year old, a forum moderator responded that there are "plans for a beta test version for 64-bit in four months."

If that's the case, and the public beta for a 64-bit ZoneAlarm and ZoneAlarm Pro 8.0 truly is set to begin in late December, then based on the company's recent history with betas (the cycle for 7.0 lasted six months), a true Vista edition might not be ready until next summer.

But in a response to BetaNews' inquiry yesterday, Check Point spokesperson Heather Haas would not confirm the forum moderator's version of the timetable, nor provide any other details. "We are continuing to work on development of a 64-bit version of ZoneAlarm, but we do not have a release date set," Haas told us.

The delay continues to be a severe problem for Check Point, if the forum threads are any indication. Retailers continue to stock ZoneAlarm as a firewall for Windows XP and Vista, and indeed, it does work on 32-bit Vista. But some users only come to discover their computers came with 64-bit Vista pre-installed, once their newly purchased firewalls display the bad news during setup.

ZoneAlarm's marriage with Vista has never been on solid ground. In the beginning, it was one of many security programs that had difficulty cooperating with even the new 32-bit kernel; and last February, the 32-bit Vista edition found itself defeated by Vista Service Pack 1.

Some of ZoneAlarm's competitors have faced similar trouble with building a 64-bit Vista edition. For example, Online Armor -- which has received highest recommendations from both third-party firewall tester Matousec Security (PDF available here) and Computerworld editor Scot Finnie, is only rated now for use with Windows XP. Like ZoneAlarm, Online Armor has a free general purpose version (downloadable from FileForum) and a commercial edition. But the XP support limitation is not something that's readily discernable from the manufacturer's Web site.

But a 64-bit firewall is not altogether impossible to build. The latest firewall from Comodo, rated as a close #3 by Matousec (PDF available here) and a close second by Finnie, has commercial-grade features that it gives away entirely for free -- its commercial bundle includes anti-virus. BetaNews has been experimenting with Comodo Firewall Pro (downloadable from FileForum) on one of our 64-bit Vista-based production systems, with nothing but good news to report so far.

Meanwhile, ZoneAlarm 7.0 has found itself lately slipping down the scale of functionality, failing on 22 tests in Matousec's suite last June (PDF available here), and scoring a 63% in its overall test battery. This compared to 95% for Comodo, 98% for Online Armor (albeit on XP only), and 99% for Outpost Firewall Pro (64-bit shareware downloadable from FileForum).

While some FileForum users continue to praise ZoneAlarm and ZoneAlarm Pro for being easy to configure, others have begun taking it to task for having to be constantly configured, and some for having a relatively difficult time being uninstalled. If Check Point intends to catch up with competition that may have surged ahead in the firewall field, it may need to go ahead and launch its 64-bit beta with whatever it's got, in a matter of weeks if not days.

  • Free software great and small
  • Murdoch says News Corp, Yahoo tie-up very unlikely
  • ZoneAlarm Pro misidentifies Yahoo Messenger as a Trojan…again
  • Windows XP SP3 official release delayed, but download still available