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Windows Live Family Safety

Last week, we looked at parental control software and listed some of the more popular subscription packages that are available.  This week, we take a look at a simpler option for PC users that has one big advantage over the annual fee downloads – it's free!

If you are using a PC that's running Windows XP, Windows Vista or Windows 7, you can go to Windows Live and download their Family Safety program.

(How do you find out which operating system is installed? Click on the Start button in the lower left corner. Type winver into the search box – or the "Run" box – and a pop-up will tell you exactly which version of Windows you are running.)

The Family Safety program allows you to set up individual accounts for your children, monitor how much time they spend on the computer, apply web site filters, and get detailed online reports of their activity.

Once you hit Download on the Family Safety page, the installer will tell you which programs you already have and which are available for download. You can uncheck the ones you don't want but make sure you leave the Family Safety box checked.

As you install Family Safety, you will be prompted for a Windows Live ID. If you already have a hotmail account, you can use that e-mail name and password. If not, you will need to create an account. Keep the username and password in a safe place; you will need them each time you log on.

Once you have installed Family Safety, find it under your Programs menu and click to open it. You will be prompted for your password.

Once the Family Safety Filter window opens, you can add as many family members as you wish. You can set different passwords for each family member, which they will need whenever they log on the computer.

Once you have set up an account, you can check the box marked Monitor and the activity under that account will now be monitored.

To view activity or to edit settings, click on the Family Safety web site address at the foot of the page. You will again be prompted for your username and password.

Here, you can now see the activity reports – time spent on the computer, web sites visited, etc. You can also customize web filters and monitor any requests to access blocked sites. The web filtering tool is particularly well-designed, allowing basic blocking (excludes adult content); strict filtering (child-friendly and named sites only); or custom filtering (specified categories and named sites only).

Don't forget that Family Safety has to be downloaded and installed on every computer that your children use; it can't be networked.

Although Family Safety may not have all the features that some of the more robust third-party packages have, it is enough for most parents with computer-savvy, web-adventurous children. Plus, there's no need to worry about remembering the renewal date: it's free and so are the regular updates!

Comment by Tshaka Armstrong, posted 1/28/2010, 5:08 PM:

This is a great option for families whose children use MS products and online services (IM, Live, Hotmail, etc). Great write up!
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