A "personal" firewall is not a firewall, after all
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The author's problem is he works at a help desk and gets annoying calls from people with IDS' who don't know how to interpret the results. If he had read the blackice documentation, for example, it would tell him that the software is comprised of two components, a firewall and an IDS. You can block or unblock any port by editing the firewall.ini file, just like any "hardware" firewall. The IDS portion blocks IP addresses when "suspicious" traffic is detected. You can choose to trust a computer however, in which case warning messages won't be generated and the IP won't ever get blocked.
A "hardware" firewall is just a software firewall with the software burned on a flash chip. Sure, not having all those other services running eliminates a lot of potential vulnerabilities, but the real advantage is ease of use IMHO. Setting up three NICs to create a DMZ is a pain in the arse. Much easier to just plug in a black box and forget about it. That's also the problem I have with black box solutions, people rarely update the software on the flash chip.
I'd say a frequently patched firewall is always better than a never patched firewall, regardless of whether it be software or hardware based.