My 7 year old daughter Wendy has been clamoring for her own email account, among other things (like her own cell phone). She’s been using a computer for years, and has been using my old web server laptop as her main machine, mainly to surf kids gaming and Harry Potter sites. Of course, she’s learned the best ways to finagle her parents over the years. However, she just finished first grade, and is an avid reader (she earned an award in the very good Accelerated Reader Program), having already read half a dozen books since the end of school and most of Harry Potter.
Additionally, my wife and I have been worried about protecting her from the aggressive email spammers, the relentless tempting advertisers, and the general depredation of the real world internet
Having heard about parental controls and MSN Premium, I decided to give it a try. Besides, it’s a Microsoft product, and we get somewhat of a discount as an employee.
I was skeptical about how it would work: Sure I could tell her to use the MSN browser, but how do I stop her from starting the ever available unlimited Internet Explorer from the Start menu?
After navigating some internal Microsoft web sites, I found a place to sign up for an MSN email address, give my credit card number, and download a 1.7 Meg executable. From the web site description, I couldn’t tell for what the email address would be used: would it be for my daughter or me? I wanted the email for my daughter, but apparently, it’s for the main account holder.
After a couple busy family weeks, I was able to transfer the executable to Wendy’s computer, which runs Windows XP Pro. I had set up Wendy as a non-administrator user, and started to run the executable from her account. A warning appeared saying that a non-admin user running setup might not work.
So I could have logged inas administrator, run the setup, then log in as Wendy and see if everything worked. Or I could have temporarily made Wendy an administrator. I chose the latter. Apparently the setup does a lot of downloading for components, and several times the downloads failed. Clicking on “Details” of the failure revealed something about components not being signed or certified or something. Thankfully, after several hits of the Retry button it seemed to succeed.
I saw that MSN Messenger was up and was inviting me to sign in. I didn’t want to do that: I just wanted to see if MSN Premium was installed. I looked on the All Programs menu and couldn’t find any new entry, so I thought everything failed.
Then I noticed an MSN butterfly on the desktop, which I clicked, and found that MSN was indeed installed. I saw that it was another UI around the internet web browser control, with which I was intimately familiar, having used it many times to create my own web browser hosted on a Visual FoxPro form.
With an MSN Premium account, I saw that I could add up to ten members, each with their own email and possible parental controls. Without much trouble I was able to sign up Wendy with her own email account (which gives her her own passport account) and put it under parental control. I saw that there was an option to require parental controls for all internet connections from this machine (which required a reboot) and I chose that.
Sure enough, when Wendy is logged in, starting Internet Explorer just shows the “page could not be found” error message and automatically prompts for an MSN passport account and starts up the MSN UI. I was quite pleased about that.
I then tried to send email from Wendy’s account. When I hit send, it prompted for parental permission to allow email to be sent to the recipients. The prompt allowed a couple options: ask parent by email, ask parent who might be nearby. I tried the nearby option, and it prompted for the main account holder’s email and password so the child couldn’t just say “yeah, Dad said so” to the program.
I tried navigating to our own web site and it gave me a similar prompt: apparently my web site is unknown and thus is blocked. After granting permission, I tried a few other web sites. Apparently there is a list of allowable web sites for children, because I was able to get to Disney, pbskids.org and cartoonnetwork.com.
Thus the parental controls seem to be working well. I can’t write too much more about this because I know a certain youngster will be reading this.<g>
Now I’ll have to tell Wendy that she has email!