Despite requests from its competitors to charge a fee for its ZoneAlarm firewall, Zone Labs says keeping the product’s zero price tag is the best thing the company has done.
ZoneAlarm is the most popular consumer firewall product in the world. The company boasts some 25 million active users.
This has been great for users, but has perplexed competitors.
According to Ian Robinson, Zone Labs’ director of enterprise products, both Symantec and McAfee have asked how Zone Labs has maintained a free product for so long, and why it has not charged.
Symantec produces the Norton Personal Firewall 2004 priced at $90.85, and McAfee sells the McAfee Desktop Firewall 8.0 for $US45.
The result has effectively meant both companies, while strong in the AV market, have had to play second (and third) fiddle to Zone Labs.
However, Zone Labs will not budge. "We will always have a free product," said Robinson.
Although free, ZoneAlarm does have limited features compared to paid version, ZoneAlarm Pro 4.5. That is free for the first 30 days of trial, after which users are required to pay $US49.95. If they don’t, Zone Labs automatically scales back the product to the basic version of the firewall, stripping it of all the Pro features.
According to Robinson, there are benefits in maintaining the free product. Namely, it gives the company an army of testers.
"People at home are in a more hostile environment than those in the enterprise who are behind perimeter firewalls," Robinson said. "Keeping a free product is a great way to torture test the firewall and get revisions and great feedback."
"Some of the consumers out there are on the bleeding edge," he added.
That feedback from users is then fed into the development of the enterprise version of ZoneAlarm, called Integrity. Integrity has the same core technology as the consumer edition.
Robinson says some 1100 enterprises have Integrity installed. That number is rising, he said.
The Integrity product was considered to be a major reason that Zone Labs was acquired by a maker of enterprise security products, Check Point, in December last year. Integrity was seen as a complement to Check Point's SecureClient VPN/security products.