The computer helper: Using Vista's parental controls

The computer helper: Using  Vista's parental controls

( dpa ) - If you have kids, chances are you need to limit what they can do on the computer - and how long they're allowed to use it.

Microsoft has responded to your needs in Windows Vista with built- in parental controls. For the first time, parental controls are available to Windows users without the need to buy a third-party program.

But how do Vista's parental controls stack up, and will your kids be able to disable them? Read on to find out.

Q: How do I find Vista's parental controls?

A: Just open the Start menu, and type "parent," without the quotation marks, in the search box. The first result returned should be Parental Controls. Click that, and you're in.

Q: How do I set up the parental controls on my child's computer?

A: There must be at least two accounts defined on a Vista machine on which you wish to set up parental controls: an administrator's account and one or more so-called Standard User accounts. The administrator account, which by default is the one that Vista sets up when you first install the operating system, can attach parental controls to all Standard User accounts on a machine.

The simplest route to setting up a machine You must log on to the Vista computer as an administrator. By default, the user name you set up when you first install Vista is the administrator account. From there, you can create additional Standard User accounts and then define parental controls for each of those accounts.

Vista's parental controls will typically make it difficult for your kids to install many applications they find on the Internet, including flash players and other browser plug-ins.

When you first set up an account with parental controls attached, it's a good idea to spend some time setting up all of the programs that your child is likely to need or use, and test out the use of the account by going online and seeing whether everything works as expected. You will probably need to refine some of the parental control settings to provide the level of control that you deem appropriate for your child.

Q: What's the difference between Vista's parental controls and those offered by other software companies?

A: Vista's parental controls provide most of what the other third- party parental control software packages offer, including time limits, restrictions on specific types of programs and games, online protection, and reports that give you a complete overview of what your child has done while using the computer.

Setting up and configuring parental controls is noticeably more intuitive than it is with most other software programs, but Vista does not have some of the more advanced features offered by other vendors. Vista does not, for instance, have the ability to send you e-mail reports of your child's activities.

Q: Will kids be able to disable the parental controls?

A: Vista's parental controls are a part of the operating system, so the integration is tighter and the likelihood that your kids will easily be able to disable the controls is smaller, at least for now.

Various hacks exist for most third-party parental controls, and a savvy teenager could likely disable the controls of several popular packages without your knowledge. To disable Vista's parental controls, though, your child would need to obtain the password for the Administrator account and then disable parental controls on the account that he or she uses.

A determined child may be able to do this using a password cracking tool, but it'll be up to you to make clear what the consequences of such action would be. Vista's reporting feature in the parental control section will give you a specific rundown of any program your child has used or Web site visited, so monitoring this is a good idea if you suspect that an attempt to hack the controls is being made.

- Have a computer question? Send it to the Computer Helper at [email protected]

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