Some of you might be wondering why I've not mentioned the release of the latest version of ZoneAlarm. Yes I did make mention of it here ZoneAlarm 6.0 being released next week with spyware protection. But I've made no mention of the actual release. Now why is this? Is it because I was unaware of the release of this latest build? Was it do to the fact that I was just to lazy to post an article about it? Neither.
Now here is where honesty may give me a swift kick in my backside. The truth is – I was asked not to publicly mention the release until later this week. It's not unusual for me to be asked not to mention a new private beta. In the past I've been asked to keep my mouth closed in regards to upcoming products. Corey Bridges will tell you I pushed a few buttons at Gnomedex 3.0 in regards to one such product release. But normally I'm good about not leaking any vital information. In this case I don't see where I should have to abide by any gag order for several reasons.
The first reason being that many other sites and forums ( including the ZoneLabs forum ) are discussing this release. So why should a site that many ZoneAlarm users come to for information not be included in this conversation? My second reason is that I feel a need to express my disapproval of how things where handled in regards to the release process. And most importantly. I think I have a right to alert users to the fact that the current release of this product may in fact cause them a little frustration. The cause of this aggravation is known to ZoneLabs. Yet they still released this build to the public before fixing it. Why they have done this is beyond me. Well not entirely – more on that later.
Team Z was informed about the release date for ZoneAlarm 6.0 a day in advance. Although all of us where asked to not make any mention of this in public. Normally this wouldn't be that big of an issue. But in this situation you'll see why that wasn't the case this time around. The reason I find this completely stupid is do to the fact that the build would be included on the history page. Now anyone who knows anything – meaning if they read any security related forums on a regular basis. Would in fact know that the history page is what most online users check to find a new release of the product. So the cat would be out of the bag as soon as the release went live. Which it in fact was. Security » ZoneAlarm V6 is released So the whole point of asking Team Z to make no mention of this seems rather a mute point. Why ask us to censor ourselves when you darn well know this information is going to go public as soon as you add the release to the history page? It was always my understanding that Team Z was a program that was developed to help in regards to communication between the company and it's customers. One of our goals has always been to alert users to new product builds and if any problems have been reported with these builds.
In this case we were asked not to mention that there in fact was a minor problem with this latest version of ZoneAlarm. Do to the fact that it would be fixed sometime this week. Which was when the general public had previously been told the build would be available for purchase and download. This problem has now been brought up in the ZoneLabs official forum ZA Pro 6 – Installation, Uninstall and Upgrade – Zone Labs User Forum ( keep in mind this link may go dead at any time – ZoneLabs cleans their forum from time to time – this deletes threads ). Now you have to ask. Why would a company that knows it is in fact having image problems in regards to it's product knowingly release a build that they knew would have customers complaining? This just doesn't make good marketing sense. Yes I realize there was a little buzz around some of the new features coming out. Not all of this buzz was positive I might add. But rushing a product with a known issue out the door isn't smart when your trying to retain or gain new customers. No matter how minor you may feel this issue is.
So what has happened do to this way of handling things? You now have users complaining in the companies forum and in other online venues. What are they complaining about? The very issue that supposedly we will see a fix for this week. As a ZoneAlarm customer you'll be alerted to this fixed release when ZoneLabs turns on the Check for Updates servers. You'll receive an alert within your ZoneAlarm software in regards to the update. So current users who have updated are stuck with the problem until this upcoming release this week. Not only does this further harm customer retention and their view of the company and it's product. It also could lead to increased support emails and calls. Thus increasing cost to the company. In the end rushing this build out the door does more harm than good. You have customers who have purchased this new product recently. Who will have networks and they will run into the known problem. It would seem to make sense that this would give them a negative opinion in regards to using ZoneAlarm. I thought a key principle of a business is to make sure it provides a product or service that will be beneficial to the customer and make them happy. Not release a product you know is going to cause negative feedback and increased support request.
Maybe ZoneLabs doesn't realize that every user who complains online has family and friends. They will in most cases share their experience with the ZoneAlarm software with those people. These others may be current customers or potential customers. The choice of whether to stay a customer or make a purchase of this software can easily be influenced by word of mouth. To many companies lack the understanding of this basic concept. They feel that the number of disgruntled users is minor. Or just a few idiots spouting off in online forums and that this has no consequence on the bottom line. I think companies should in fact take a hard look at Ebay. This company is a prime example of how word of mouth can hurt corporate profits.
Many ZoneAlarm customers / users have decided to no longer use the software. Granted this happens every day online and offline. Customers are always making new product choices. But most of these customers / users have chosen to use other firewall products do to the fact that they feel ZoneLabs isn't listening. Some take issue with the fact that ZoneLabs has geared their focus to a suite product. Instead of just providing a pure firewall product. For awhile ZoneLabs did produce ZoneAlarm Plus. That product has been discontinued.
Online forums are full of users blaming ZoneAlarm for their speed related issues. Many users have seen increased speeds with broadband connections after uninstalling ZoneAlarm. The number of users reporting this has decreased. Although in my opinion this has been a PR nightmare for ZoneLabs. They have only addressed this publicly once from what I've seen. The standard reply on this has been that they can't in fact reproduce the issue on their end. Broadband ISP haven't seemed to be willing to investigate the problem on their side of things. So from what I've seen the problem still is being experienced by many ZoneAlarm customers. Again this and many other previous issues have led to a rather negative overall viewpoint by many online. Maybe this hasn't hurt the bottom line enough for ZoneLabs to step up to the plate and nip the issue in the bud. It could be they just don't care. Honestly I'm not really sure what to think. I'm aware your never going to make every customer happy. I'm aware that in a lot of cases these problems are do to customers misconfiguring or not properly setting something up. But when you have a large number of users constantly reporting the same exact issue. There is more to the story than user stupidity.
So what is my experience with ZoneAlarm 6.0 ( I use the ZoneAlarm Security Suite )? It's been extremely negative so far. I installed it the day it came out. I did an over the top install. Many customers had reported success using this install method. I normally use the /CLEAN method. I had previously beta tested several builds of this version. During testing do to issues with getting my wireless network to run with the beta. I had to revert back to an older version of ZoneAlarm. Since build 5.5.094.000 had an issue with installing when a modified boot screen was in use. I had to revert back to version 5.5.062.011. This is something that I have always felt is a very bad security practice. Do to the fact that companies almost always include some sort of security fixes for their products in newer builds. In this case I had no choice.
Now keep in mind when I beta tested I ran into the know issue with the 6.0 version. This wasn't that big of a problem honestly. Annoying yes. This is why when I was told it might be best to hold off installing this build until this week ( do to my having a home network ). That I figured it would be no big deal. Do to the fact that the known issue was only a minor inconvenience. This could be ZoneLabs exact thought process. Thus another reason they released this build. Imagine my surprise when I installed this latest 6.0 version and couldn't access the internet no matter what I tried. On two different machines I could not access out to the internet. When disabling ZoneAlarm on my main machine. I was able to access the internet without issue. My router was in play – so I was relatively safe from being a victim of an internet attacker. Even when I found what was being blocked and allowed it in the trusted zone. I still was unable to access the internet. So in my opinion there in fact may be more than just one minor issue with this current 6.0 build of ZoneAlarm. I've yet to try to use the /CLEAN method of uninstall – reinstall. Maybe this latest build of ZoneAlarm shouldn't be updated over the top. Meaning it shouldn't be installed over a previous build of the product. All I can say at this time is this upgrade didn't go smooth for me at all. And I honestly have to question if this latest version should be available to the general public at this time. I stated exactly that here Security » ZoneAlarm V6 is released.
I didn't take the decision to write what I have above lightly. I've been an avid supporter of ZoneLabs for some time. I'm more than aware that my words may upset some people within the company. I'm also aware that my words above could have an effect on my Team Z status. But I felt that what I've said above needed to be stated. I honestly don't feel this was a very wise move for ZoneLabs. I truly feel it will further tarnish their consumer products image. Maybe not enough for them to feel it matters. Although in my opinion the negative feedback is coming more from everyday customers than just a few hardcore online ranters. So the negative feedback issue needs to be resolved. I've always felt this was part of the reason Team Z was originally created. To help improve overall customer satisfaction. And to improve the communication between the company and it's customers. How can I do my job as a member of this team? If the company is willing to release a product with known issues. No matter how minor these issues may seem. At this point I think there is more than just this one minor issue needing looked at.
I'll list the major issues that most customers are still complaining about below. I will also provide links so that everyone reading here can in fact see what others are saying and how they feel. I personally feel many customers think ZoneLabs should focus on getting these issues resolved before adding new features to the product. It is clear that new features seem to be taking the precedent. Which is all well and good. But what is the use of new features? If customers can't use the product or are experiencing issues when the product is in use.
The number one user complaint and black eye in regards to Zonelabs image is the broadband speeds problem. Many users are still reporting slower broadband speeds when using the ZoneAlarm firewall. Even with the newer builds. This has been an ongoing issue for several years now.
The second biggest complaint is the lack of a firewall only product. This of course has been addressed previously. Honestly I don't think the company will go back to producing a standalone firewall product. Although many previous users now seem to feel ZoneAlarm is bloated. Even when I've shown time and again that resource usage has gone down or stayed the same with the newer features.
The third set of issues would be basic support problems. Getting them resolved in a timely matter and frustration with the communication process. This is something every major company and software vendor run into. Many users have issues getting the ZoneAlarm software to run smoothly with a home network. And of course we see daily problems related to some software and ZoneAlarm not interacting well together. Many times some of these problems are fixed with a simple settings change. Keep in mind that ZoneLabs has done a very good job in trying to increase support options that are available to customers. Along with a very easy to use tutorial included in the ZoneAlarm software.
Now for my complaint. An issue I discussed with several ZoneLabs employees in person in late October 2004. The antispam feature in ZASS is still locking up Outlook Express for a good amount of time. Even when I fully disable my Kaspersky antivirus. This is an issue I reported during beta testing before that feature was released. I'm still not seeing how this could be machine specific. The machine is running XP Pro a 1Ghz Celeron with 640 MB of RAM. Not a state of the art machine by an means. But this should be more than enough to not be seeing a lockup do to use of this ZoneAlarm feature.
Now we should keep in mind that this software has been downloaded millions of times. And that several million of those downloads are still active users. So your bound to see a good number of problems come about when dealing with such a wide variety of users. Especially when those people are from all different parts of the world. With that in mind. I still feel there are issues that have been fairly consistent. Reported by many ZoneAlarm customers. I don't think these problems can be or should be written off as user error. It also needs to be kept in mind. That for every complaint online there are probably at least 5 other users offline that aren't expressing there frustrations and issues. Many of these customers / users may just decide it's not worth the hassle and move onto the next product. Meaning your competition gets that consumer.