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I do not normally recommend a firewall for most of my customers, but I have found a good free solution which made me change my mind on that.  Windows has a firewall built into it.  While this is absolutely the worst firewall solution possible, its ease of use and automatic nature make it the best solution for most users.  The reason for this is that firewalls are confusing.  They constantly ask the user if he or she wishes to allow this or that and wait for the user to respond before allowing access.  Most user don't know how to answer the questions.  Many of the program names are cryptic and the average person has no idea what they should or should not allow.  So the user will either end up answering "yes" to everything or "no" to everything.  Answering "yes" to everything is like not having a firewall at all.  Answering "no" to everything causes everything to stop working as browsers can't get access to web pages.

I have recently found a very nice free solution which is a nice compromise, however.  It leaves a little to be desired, for sure, but it's as automatic as the Windows firewall while allowing you complete control over what can and cannot access the Internet.

First, the bad.  This firewall allows everything through by default.  Rather than ask you if you want to allow something through it simply tells you the first time a program accesses network resources, but allows it through.  You can then choose to block it, but it's all or none, meaning you block all network traffic for it or none at all.  For things like QuickBooks you may want to allow local network traffic, but not allow access over the Internet, which I have not found a way to do with this software.  Also, it is not compatible with Windows XP or previous versions of Windows.

Now the good.  Other than not being able to block only Internet traffic while allowing local network traffic, such as with shared drives or printers, it's really easy to use.  You have a list of things which have accessed the network and you simply click a little "fire" icon to block it.  It's quickly obvious what is blocked and what is not.  Also, it gives you a lot of information about what's using your network and it does actually tell you how much of the traffic is local and how much goes out over the Internet.  It keeps track of this 24/7 so that you can check it any time you like.  You can see a list of every single thing which has ever accessed your network since installing the software, in order from the biggest user to the smallest.  It even detects and reports its own usage, hiding nothing from you.  You still need to know what you're doing to block things, but if you make a mistake, it's easy to undo with a single mouse click, and there's a lot of information if you want to see what is using your network resources.

The firewall is called GlassWire and the free version is fine for most users, though business users are allowed to test it for only 30 days before the EULA requires that they purchase one of the paid versions.  But the paid versions also give other benefits, such as the ability to control the firewalls on many computers from a central location.

While not a perfect solution it's definitely the best I've seen to date.  It's easy to use if you're not sure what you're doing, but powerful if you are.  Just a couple more features and it might be as close as you can get to perfect.

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