ZoneAlarm is one of the best, if not, the best free firewall. It's better than many firewalls that you have to pay for. If you're running Win ME it should work just fine and I doubt you'll have too many problems. I agree that it's necessary when you have a connection that's live all the time. ZoneAlarm is only annoying if you're actually having a lot of internet attacks or spyware on your system and you can't figure out how to make it run in the back ground without telling you every time that something tries to probe your computer.
If you are not running your computer in a network; for example, an office where each computer is linked with file and printer sharing, then you should definitely download and run a tiny tiny program called Unplug'N Pray. It's only 22kb
and you only have to run it once. You can download it here: http://grc.com/unpnp/unpnp.htm
Windows systems made after Win 98 leave file and printer sharing options open by default which leaves your connection bare-naked to be scanned and attacked by 24 hour hackers and spyware scumbags that slow down your computer by relaying browsing and computer habits to them before your computer can do anything useful. That's why it's been suggested to you that you get a firewall. The fact is that companies don't want to bother expalaining this to you because you're likely to put up with some of the slowdown that trojans and spyware programs cause without complaining. Actual hacker attacks that destroy your computer are much less common than spyware and your ISP still doesn't care because YOU
pay for the connection anyways.
ZoneAlarm will do basically two things when running in the background. It will give you a pop up warning when something is probing your computer, and when a program on your computer is trying to "phone home". The first case is easy. When you get a pop up alert window for something that is trying to connect with your computer from outside
your computer, it will give you a messsage that says: "The firewall has blocked access to you computer (blah blah)from blah.blah.blah.blah (blah blah) (blah blah). Just check the box that says: "Don't show this dialog again" This does not prevent ZoneAlarm from blocking, it just prevents the ocassion from interrupting you.
The second thing it does is alert you the very first time that a program from your computer tries to make a connection to somewhere or "phone home" when you're online with ZoneAlarm on. This is where you have to pay attention, but it's not as difficult as it sounds. For example, after installing ZoneAlarm, the first time you run your Internet connection program and Internet Explorer, it will alert you and ask you if you want to let it connect for each program. For a trusted program like that you can check the box that says: "Always let this program access the Internet". That way it won't alert you every time because it's not necessary.
For other programs, you'll have to pay more attention. This is where you may notice if you have any spyware that's trying to "phone home" like Realplayer. You can check a box that says something like; No, and don't ever let it connect, or you can just say no on a case by case basis. (This can help you identify how often spyware tries to phone home.) You can also say two variations of "yes, let it connect" by checking a box or clicking "yes". It may sound complicated, but it's all done from the same box and you just need to use some common sense. While programs like WM Player and Realplayer need to connect when streaming music right off the net, they don't need to phone home and spy on random occasion, like when you're not even downloading music. If you have some program you don't even recognize that wants to phone home like, blackhole666 then you should obviously say no. Wow, this post went on much longer than I thought. I hope it helps.