Today I uninstalled ZoneAlarm Pro on my notebook and installed the trial version of Agnitum Outpost Firewall Pro as recommended by Timur, who may or may not be a shrill for Agnitum. Before I did that I read a couple of reviews on the firewall first and found that generally most people found it to be a robust firewall and to be as good as ZoneAlarm Pro. I didn't download the Security Suite as apparently their anti-firewall and anti-malware kit is a bit pants. My PC is also installed with both AVG and Avast's free antivirus kit, Spybot's Search and Destroy spyware detector and Lavasoft's AdAware so I feel pretty confident on recklessly surfing the web.
So far I am very impressed. A couple of things, the GUI lacks the intuitiveness of ZoneAlarm or Norton Internet Security. It isn't something you want to install on your grandmother's spanking new notebook for example, as everything on it seems baffling to a newb (although actually the learning curve is almost minimal, but the UI can seem 'scary' at first). You can tell that Agnitum created an application that first and foremost aims to inform the user best in security issues rather than burying them deep under pretty UI. Outpost Firewall Pro also allows the creation of new configuration files based on your security preferences, which I like. Rules can also be created based on predefined presets - perfect for newbs who does not understand the rules of disallowing dishonest applications from phoning home.
Next I tested the firewall's robustness through a couple of online firewall tests. It passed McAfee's simple port scan test as well as PC Flank's advance TCP SYN random port scan test. Finally I went to Steve Gibson's Shields Up! website which announced that my system achieved a perfect "TruStealth" rating through probing the first 1056 ports. A couple of leak test confirmed that this firewall application is simply invisible. Colour me impressed!
Outpost Firewall Pro so far has been a very impressive application though it is still a pretty bloated software (14MB download similar to ZoneAlarm Pro). And as far as advance configurations go, as long as you practice common sense and sit behind a firewall router you probably do not need a pro version software firewall. As I sometimes leech over neighbour's wireless broadband connection or use the free unsecured one down the pub, a software firewall is a must. If you constantly sit behind a router you can probably make do with the excellent and free Comodo Firewall Pro. But if you require something more advance you can't go wrong with either Outpost Firewall Pro or ZoneAlarm Pro.