More than just an antivirus tool, ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus + Firewall is more of a security suite, comprising virus protection, a firewall, phishing protection, and even secure online storage.
During the installation, you're asked – if you opt for a custom installation, at least – whether you'd like to use Maximum Security mode, or Auto-Learn mode. The latter is better for most people as it means the software is automatically configured based on computer usage, while Maximum mode will be of greater interest to those who want complete control. The choice is welcome. Less welcome, however, is the attempt to install Yahoo software in the hope that you won’t notice; take care to deselect this option if you're not interested.
While on the face of it this is a very simple program, there's actually a great deal of manual configuration available. This is great if you're experienced with such things, but venturing into settings could be an intimidating experience for the uninitiated.
Thankfully, the auto configuration works incredibly well, and with a few days of normal PC use you should find that everything is set up without too much effort. Tests show that ZoneAlarm not only has excellent detection rates for viruses and malware, but that the number of false positives is incredibly low – just the sort of reliability you should be looking for.
The program doesn’t look like much when you first look at it, but that's because most things are taken care of for you automatically. Real-time protection, scheduled scans and automatic database updates keep viruses at bay, but you can also scan individual files manually via the Windows context menu.
With the software in Learning Mode, the number of notifications relating to the firewall can be irritating to start with, but they do die down over time, and for those occasions when you don’t want to be bothered by notifications at all, there's a handy Game Mode.
Nevertheless, while scanning and updating are themselves fairly swift processes, ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus + Firewall is still something of a drain on resources and slows down other computing tasks.