Last week, I discussed the need for personal firewalls. I mentioned that Tiny Software offers Tiny Personal Firewall free for personal use, and many of you wrote to remind me that Zone Labs also offers a free personal firewall called ZoneAlarm. " I did a little more checking and found that Sygate also offers its Sygate Personal Firewall free for personal use.

Although I don't usually write product reviews in this editorial space, this week I'll make an exception because so many of you responded to last week's editorial. I'll keep it brief.

I downloaded all three personal firewall products over the past week and installed each to test its functionality. Overall, I found all three products easy to use, primarily because of their intelligent rule-learning abilities, which help users define rules on-the-fly as they use applications on the desktop.

ZoneAlarm has a snazzy UI that eliminates the need to display technical information, such as which ports are defined in the rules. Instead, the interface displays the applications' type of network access (inbound or outbound, Internet, or LAN). As an added benefit, ZoneAlarm provides protection against malicious mail attachments and has a feature that checks for updates to the firewall. I found ZoneAlarm's granularity of control acceptable for the average user.

Sygate Personal Firewall (SPF) also has a slick UI. As with ZoneAlarm, SPF governs at the application level, where you can specify which applications have network access and which applications are explicitly denied network access. SPF offers a more granular level of control than ZoneAlarm. In addition to straightforward application access control, SPF also defines rules that allow access specific to ports and protocols and can define trusted networks where all traffic is allowed. SPF has direct support for VPNs, such as those built with PPTP, and you can configure SPF to change its security settings during certain times of day.

Tiny Personal Firewall (TPF) is my favorite of the three personal firewalls because of its overall simplicity and no-frills approach. The product's UI is clean and easy to use. Anyone familiar with enterprise firewall administration will appreciate TPF's simple firewall rule wizards that guide you step-by-step through creating access rules. The software displays firewall rules in a simple list and processes the rules in the order seen, which makes troubleshooting simple.

Take a look at all three products—they're all good. But be sure to read the technical details before you install a product—it'll help avoid interference with your system architecture. Until next time, have a great week.