Our installation of McAfee Personal Firewall took three minutes and proceeded without incident, after which a quick system reboot launched the product. The firewall installs with the default Standard settings, which are intended to balance security with convenience, offering common protections without inhibiting Web features such as streaming media or ActiveX Controls. A Run Setup Assistant feature is also available in the Utilities dialog to tailor the firewall's operation. It allows you to heighten security for some apps and lower security for others. We wish that the assistant would run automatically after the program's initial installation rather than making you hunt it down.
Overall, we found the McAfee Personal Firewall interface confusing. While it's clean and attractive, you have to dig for the details. Since each layer of the menu pops up in its own window, drilling down to the Firewall Settings menu, for example, requires opening a new dialog box, then the Personal Firewall overview dialog box, and finally the Firewall Settings dialog box. A single-dialog menu system would be less confusing. Unfortunately, even after you dig down several layers, the customization is not as granular as that found within ZoneAlarm Pro or Norton Personal Firewall.
New to MPF 6.0 is protection against phishing scams, which attempt to steal your online banking information. McAfee now alerts you to the potential for fraud anytime an Internet source requests your credit card or social security information. ZoneAlarm Pro has had a similar feature for years.
We informally tested our MPF 2005 installation against Gibson Research's ShieldsUp tool. MPF 2005 protected our computer's data during the test.
Although McAfee provides free e-mail support (our test question was answered in several hours) and online chat assistance, you'll have to pay a hefty fee for telephone support: $39.95 per incident, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. CT. Both Symantec and ZoneLabs charge similar fees for telephone support. We think that's unfair for home users, who don't have an IT department standing by.
The McAfee support site is an important source of information, including help with the installation, downloading, patches, and error issues.