ZoneAlarm has done a good job of keeping its software at the cutting edge in terms of security, refining and improving the range of featues on offer over the last few years to stay competitive in the face of comprehensive rivals. This time around it has added tune-up and backup tools to create an ‘Extreme’ version of its suite, which also includes the Forcefield component for online protection.
ZoneAlarm claims to offer the ‘fastest installation’ of any security suite on the market, but in practice we found this to be an elaborate claim to say the least. While it’s true that the main application install only takes a few minutes (which is still considerably slower than Norton 360‘s impressive one-minute time) the software runs an initial scan before it has been updated. An update must then be downloaded, which took around 30 minutes in our test, and another scan run, with the entire process taking over an hour.
Setup issues don’t end here though, as after being greeted with the now familiar ZoneAlarm interface we noticed that the backup and tune-up tools were conspicuous by their absence. As it turns out, ZoneAlarm requires these to be downloaded separately and each actually behaves as a standalone application, albeit ZoneAlarm ‘branded’.
The online backup is a re-purposed 2GB service from iDrive, though it is quite effective and offers continuous backups which kick in when a file changes, plus version backup for documents, timeline restore and schedule creation. It also enforces encryption, though we were disappointed to note that the whole service is ‘online only’, which reduces its effectiveness considerably.
The tune-up tools are similarly perfunctory and have again been licensed from a third party. Calling this feature ‘PC Tune-up’ is almost embarrassing when you consider that all you really get is a registry backup, defrag and repair along with a basic cleanup tool little more effective than that supplied with Windows. While this does add some useful features in the absence of more dedicated optimisation software, it’s a token effort to say the least.
Thankfully the Forcefield component is far more worthwhile and those who have chosen to add this to ZoneAlarm Internet Security in the past will be aware of its capabilities. Forcefield protects against drive-by downloads, keyloggers, phishers and spyware by using a cloned browser to acid-test websites and downloads to make sure they are safe without risking damage to your operating system. This integrates with Internet Explorer and Firefox, adding a toolbar and a translucent white glow around the browser window to remind you that you are being protected.
These new tools aside, the Extreme version of Zonealarm doesn’t bring anything particularly new to the core of the suite aside from improvements and enhancements to standard protection. As mentioned, the interface will be familiar to users of previous versions, retaining the tiered approach to tweaking components that starts with slider-based level adjustment before burrowing down into more detailed menus for advanced users.
Scan times are pretty average compared to rival suites, though they do speed up as ZoneAlarm builds a library of ‘safe’ files stored on your system that have been certified by their file signatures. There’s very little impact on performance during this process however, and generally Zonealarm is happy to work away in the background without requiring too much user intervention.
The comprehensive security offered by the anti-virus components and firewall is typically top-notch, receiving certification from most major independent test labs to maintain the consistently high levels of protection for which the suite is known.
Rounding things off are rather limited parental controls, anti-spam tools and identity protection, none of which has received any major improvements since last year.
ZoneAlarm is clearly targeting rivals like McAfee, Symantec and BitDefender with its Extreme suite, but we were left feeling a little disappointed by the way it went about it. The backup and tune-up tools are half-hearted third-party add-ons and score no points for effective integration, and despite a clear layout the interface is starting to feel a little dated.
Performance is fairly good, though, and despite below-average scan times and a frustrating initial installation process, there can be little criticism of the effectiveness of the software in protecting you against local and incoming threats. This is the suite’s saving grace and, although it doesn’t stand up too well aesthetically to some rivals, it is certainly capable of safeguarding your system.