As it stands right now there are not many Vista-compatible firewalls available. PC Tools is coming through by not only offering one, but they are even making it free! A comment by bloodsugarwilksm convinced me to try out the new Firewall Plus 3.0 that was recently released, and before I get into some of the details I want to say that this firewall works with Windows XP, 2000, and Server 2003 in addition to Vista.
We included Firewall Plus 2.0 in our list of free antivirus, anti-spyware, and firewalls post that was done back in April, and even then it was the only Vista compatible firewall available. Now they have reached another big milestone, but you won’t notice any difference in the interface.
–What’s New in Firewall Plus 3.0?–
The PC Tools developers made changes where it matters most in a firewall: under-the-hood. Here’s a list of what’s new in version 3:
- New Smart Application Rules
Firewall Plus now incorporates a set of new smart application rules, designed to make it simpler and easier for you to continue working with minimal interference from your Firewall. Technically, using the Application Rules, you can create a heuristic set of rules that control how applications are allowed to connect to the Internet/network and their permissions on your PC. If an application attempts to connect to the Internet/network and there are no corresponding rules, Firewall Plus will allow you to choose how the application should behave.
- Stealth Mode protection
Firewall Plus provides you with extra protection via its Stealth Mode feature which enables your system to appear invisible to other computers in the network. When in Stealth Mode, your computer is able to make connections to other computers in the network, but Firewall Plus will prevent other computers from connecting with yours.
- Data Validation using SPI (Stateful Packet Inspection)
Firewall Plus validates data using SPI – stateful packet inspection – in which it performs a protocol handshake and if successful allows data transfer, otherwise all traffic is blocked – ensuring no unauthorized data is transferred onto your computer.
- Application protection
Firewall Plus offers additional application protection by guarding all the applications on your PC from unauthorized access. Enabling this option will shield applications on your system from other applications attempting to take control of them and potentially use them for malicious purposes.
–What I think about it–
I’ve always been a big fan of the Comodo Firewall because of its exceptional performance and outstanding protection, but I give a lot of credit to PC Tools for creating a very strong competing product. Firewall Plus takes up a mere 5MB of memory on my Vista machine, which I don’t feel bad dedicating to something as important as a firewall.
By default Firewall Plus is configured to show notifications that are stripped down to only the information casual users would care about. If you’re a power user that likes to see every little detail then there is an “Expert” mode in the settings. Despite being a power user myself I have found that the basic notifications are nice, clean, and setup so that you can quickly respond.
Am I going to use it myself? Actually I think that I will at least until something better comes along. My heart is still with Comodo, but I’m a bit weary running a beta build of their Vista-compatible version, which has been causing some blue screens of death for some users. I’m guessing that Comodo 3 will be out within the next month or two, and at that time I’ll reevaluate my firewall needs. Right now, however, Firewall Plus is what’s protecting my PC.
I’ll go ahead and wrap things up with several screenshots of the different areas in Firewall Plus 3: