Two weeks ago, I asked you to send in recommendations for security software for Windows users. With the rapid growth in DSL and cable modem connections, I was especially interested in reading your thoughts about the best software solutions for these always-on configurations. I was flooded with replies.

The hands-down favorite, by a landslide, was Zone Labs’ ZoneAlarm. TechRepublic member mike.barry was one of many who praised ZoneAlarm for its ease of use: “Pre-configured, simple, easy-to-understand terms and concepts. Perfect for techies and non-techies alike. And you can’t beat the price—free.”

Another ZoneAlarm fan, dmeese, gave the program high marks for its easy customization. “Some people may suggest using something like BlackICE Defender,” he said, “but [BlackICE] won’t protect against unwanted outbound communications. With ZoneAlarm, you can allow each individual program to send out with a single click.” I can attest to ZoneAlarm’s ease of use. I used it for more than a month on my production PC, and I too was impressed with how easy it is to configure. Unfortunately, as last week’s column explained, ZoneAlarm isn’t compatible with my dual-CPU system. So I’ll keep looking.

Four other personal firewall packages earned thumbs-up ratings from TechRepublic members:

Several TechRepublic members singled out McAfee Personal Firewall (a.k.a. Conseal Private Desktop—McAfee acquired the original developer earlier this year). Its claim to fame is its status as a Web-based service ($20 a year) that updates itself on the fly. Piescikp found it “inexpensive and a snap to configure—my nontechnical son got it running without my knowing it was in the house!”

Surprisingly, the highly regarded BlackICE Defender ($40) earned only two recommendations. TechRepublic member wayne.maples highlighted its powerful logging capabilities: “If you want to monitor what people are trying to do, whether and how they are trying to penetrate your PC, I would recommend BlackICE.”

Norton’s Internet Security 2000 got only one half-hearted recommendation. The $70 package includes Norton AntiVirus 2000, plus utilities to block cookies and banner ads.

Technically, sbolton4211 missed the deadline for this week’s challenge by a day. But his recommendation led me to an amazing alternative I must share with you: eSafe Protect Enterprise, from Aladdin Knowledge Systems of Tel Aviv, Israel. Like ZoneAlarm, it’s free, but it does much more. “It combines personal firewall, content blocking technology, and virus protection, as well as excellent ‘sandbox’ technology that can detect and prevent ‘in the wild’ vandals without having the latest signature files. The personal firewall allows port blocking and remapping, as well as URL and Web page blocking by content. For you controlling admin types, it can be configured, deployed, and updated from a centralized console.”

After I read this description, I downloaded and installed the desktop version of eSafe Protect. Although the interface is a bit daunting, its feature set is unparalleled. It’s an incredible bargain.

After ZoneAlarm, the second most popular solution was not a software package at all, but a dedicated hardware solution. The reasoning is sound: If you have a home network, why not use a single piece of hardware to enforce security and share the incoming Internet connection? TechRepublic member jrsystem made the strongest case: “For a home LAN, a hardware solution over software would eliminate any conflicts with installed software as well as being quick and simple to set up. My hardware choices would be the Linksys EtherFast Cable/DSL Router or the 3Com OfficeConnect 56K (3c886) for dial-up connections.”

And finally, a couple of network administrators insisted that there is absolutely no better way to secure your home PC than with a multi-layer solution. TechRepublic member rsmith24 outlined the components that connect his always-on DSL connection and home network: “I use a separate firewall computer, then add ZoneAlarm with ‘high’ Internet security, and add a further layer with Avirt Soho network firewall and Internet sharing… I also add up-to-date Norton AntiVirus software, and when suspicious events occur, I turn on BlackICE Defender if necessary to help with IP tracking. Other software such as NeoTrace from NeoWorx can assist with active tracing and prosecution of offenders.” He didn’t mention whether there are any openings in his home’s IT department.

A hearty thanks (and 1000 TechPoints) to each of the TechRepublic members quoted in this week’s recommendations.

Here’s Ed’s new Challenge
Over the past few months, I’ve been soliciting your help replacing pieces of Windows that, for one reason or another, aren’t up to the demands of power users. This week, the target is the Windows Registry Editor. For some reason, Microsoft ships two of them with Windows 2000—Regedit and Regedt32. Either one gets the job done, but both run out of gas quickly—for example, you can’t do search-and-replace operations, nor can you undo changes. Surely there’s a better way. If you’ve got a favorite Regedit replacement, tell me (and your fellow TechRepublic members) about it. Be sure to include the key features that make your alternative better than the default, and don’t forget to provide a Web link for more information. Ready? Click here to tackle this week’s Microsoft Challenge.