Check Point Software yesterday launched a Windows Vista version of its ZoneAlarm firewall. Check Point also announced a Vista version of its ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite. Customers with current subscriptions to earlier editions can update to the Vista version free of charge.

The Vista version of ZoneAlarm, a two-way firewall that will remain free, is the first from a major security vendor to apply Vista's WFP (Windows Filtering Platform) API (application programming interface), said Laura Yecies, the general manager of Check Point's consumer security line.

Yecies blamed the delay in the release of a Vista-compatible ZoneAlarm on a switch to Vista's API. "This is a bit later than we would have liked," said Yecies, noting the four-month lag between Vista's retail release and ZoneAlarm's appearance.

WFP is Vista architecture that lets developers tap into the TCP/IP processing path. but, according to Yecies, it was a steep learning curve. Microsoft used WFP to create its own Windows Firewall, which is bundled with Vista.

"We underestimated the schedule impact of WFP. But long term, WFP will give us more support and more stability on Vista. It was a lot of extra work, but we'll have to do fewer hacks in the future."

"At times, it seemed like we were an extension of Microsoft QA. They patched and made changes based on what we found while we were developing," Yecies said.

But Check Point remains committed to keeping ZoneAlarm a free download.

"It's very important to who were are," Yecies said. Zone Labs, which was acquired by Check Point in 2004, made its name by giving away the firewall. "And we think it's the right thing to do," she said. "Our paid users live in a safer world because there are 20 million more protected by the free firewall."

Check Point touted ZoneAlarm, also the foundation of the ZoneAlarm Internet Suite that was released yesterday for Vista, as an "operating system-level" firewall.

"Eighteen months ago, we decided that the firewall had to operate at the lowest level of the OS, to monitor every call, every program," said Jordy Berson, ZoneAlarm product manager.

"There are so many new threats that we need a behavioural-based firewall" to detect and defeat more insidious attackers, including rootkits and drive by-installed keyloggers, Berson said.

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