|I strongly suspect TinglyJon is experiencing ZoneAlarm-related problems even if ZA has mostly been removed. I've seen the same thing recently on an Acer laptop with Windows Home Basic SP1 (build 6001) - Firefox works fine for a few minutes and then times out or the tab just crashes. Initially, at least Firefox got some conclusive result, even if negative, from the windows socket connection: everything worked apart from connecting to web servers. After upgrading to the latest ZoneAlarm, the tab hangs indefinitely instead - as Jon says the firefox.exe process cannot be killed by Task Manager (or even Process Explorer).|
You get a very similar result using IE7, including the irrecoverable crashing, but IE7 does allow you to start multiple instances. Each new IE window works for a while, then again can't connect. This is irrespective of wired or wireless; DNS resolves fine; you can ping from the command line and indeed telnet to port 25 (SMTP email) with no problem; it only affects port 80 and so must be a process-bound TCP-level (level 4) firewall issue. Windows Network Diagnostics (when Windows is in the first state, i.e. refusing port 80 connections, rather than hanging) reports the error as 'www.microsoft.com is not set up to establish a connection on port "World Wide Web service (HTTP)" with this computer', which is a very obscure way of saying it could ping home but not open a port 80 outbound connection. In the second state, it usually won't find the error at all.
Yes, of course you can telnet to port 80 (HTTP). In Vista, annoyingly, you need to install the telnet client under Control Panel > Programs > Windows features. Just try "telnet www.google.com 80". If there's a delay and a connection error there is a connectivity problem or firewall filtering; if it returns to the command line immediately, then the connection is refused Google's web server isn't running (unlikely); if the screen clears, you are connected to HTTP and should in theory be able to type commands like "GET / HTTP/1.0". The result for me was in case (i) (before the ZA upgrade), the connection was refused; (ii) (after) telnet hung on connecting just like the browsers. But again, it can work for up to 20 minutes before this happens.
Windows Update has caused previous problems with ZA (see e.g. http://technology.timesonline.co.uk... so I enabled Windows firewall logging (Control Panel > Administrative Tools > Windows Firewall with Advanced... > Monitoring > properties > public > configure).
I even got the same effect on port 80 TCP connections in Windows safe mode, but then the IPsec Policy Agent, Windows Firewall, and ZoneAlarm's True Vector Internet Monitor (vsmon.exe) are still running. Then I recalled similar problems just affecting port 80, on OSs with ZA as far back as Windows 98. See http://www.gn.apc.org/forum/anti-vi... for fuller information.
So the issue becomes how to remove ZoneAlarm (including vsmon) altogether or alternatively remove Windows Vista altogether (needless to say, the laptop works fine under Ubuntu).
After running the ZA uninstaller, the laptop has been online for over an hour with no problems. You might need to reinstall and uninstall until TrueVector no longer loads on bootup. Comodo is the best Windows firewall I've seen for advanced users, free or commercial.