Parents take control of Windows Vista
Published: July 29th, 2005
By Lawrence Abrams
This preview is based off the Microsoft's Windows Vista Beta 1 release. Due to this, features and images shown and discussed in this preview may be drastically changed, or not exist at all in the final release.
As many of you know, the first beta of Microsoft's next generation operating system called Windows Vista has been released to a select number of beta testers. As this release is considered a public release we have the ability to show off some of its new features that we feel you would find interesting while we test the product. If you, like many others, have been going from site to site reading about all the features included with Vista, you will predominantly be seeing articles about it's new glass user interface (see through windows), IE7's support for RSS feeds, and the new interface. Though these are important facets, I know that most of my readers care more about the meat of the product and the hopes of having a secure environment that gives you some degree of control on how programs are run and who can run them.
If you are one of these people, then I have good news for you. The latest incarnation of Windows has introduced a new control panel called Windows Parental Controls. This control panel will allow you to create restrictions on what games your children can play based on the game's ratings, the type of game, or the name of the game. It also allows you to turn on activity logging that will log what a particular user does on the computer whether that be visiting an Internet site or running a program. These settings must be enabled by an Administrator of the machine, so if you do not share that accounts password, you can enforce the rest of the users who use the computer.
The Parental Control Option Screen
In the control panel is a new icon called Windows Parental Control. From this icon you can change the settings for various user accounts in how they are monitored and in what games they will be able to play. The interface is fairly intuitive giving you the ability enable or disable parental control for a particular user, enable or disable Activity Reporting, and restricting what games they can play based on game's rating, content, or the game itself. A nice feature is also the ability to choose between ESRB (entertainment software ratings board) or the PEGI (Pan european gaming information) ratings system allowing parents to choose the rating system that best fits their values.
The image below shows my Beta account that I am using for testing in which I have enabled Parental Controls and Activity Reporting.
Windows Parental Control Main Option Screen
As you can see the the interlace is fairly intuitive. You select a user and then apply the various controls you want to restrict for that user. To restrict a user based on the games rating or content you can click on the Games rating restrictions button. This will produce a screen broken up into the two images below.
Restrict content based upon the game rating using the ESRB rating system
Restrict content based on the game content.
The interface allows you to really dig down as to what types of games you would like your users to be able to play on this computer. When choosing game ratings, the highest level you allow, will allow all games of lower ratings as well. You can fine tune it further by saying games of Mature and lower are allowed, but as long as they do not contain references to drugs. As of now there is not much information as to how the content of the games will be made available to the operating system to use as restrictions
Last but not least, if you wanted to specifically ban a game for a particular user account you can select the Block Specific Games button which will list the games installed on your computer and give you the ability to always block or allow a specific game, or let the restrictions be based on the games ratings. The image below shows an example of those options:
Block Specific Games Screen
Though the Windows Parental Control options come as a welcome addition to concerned parents, there is still a lot of information not available. It seems to me that in order for the content restrictions to work, the game manufacturers must develop their games with this system in mind. Unfortunately, for some game developers this may not be in their best interest to do so. As more information about how this process is revealed we will be sure to let you know.
The Activity Monitor, though it appears that it will be useful, does not seem to be in full effect in this release of Vista. Even though I had activity reporting turned on for my Beta account, I could not find the logs for that user. If I get more information, or if someone know where to find the logs, I will let everyone know.
Another feature which I think was a mistake not to include, was the ability for administrators to actually restrict specific programs from running or users from visiting certain sites. A large concern for parents are their children chatting whether it be over instant messaging or online chat rooms with strangers. An ability to restrict users from visiting sites or using certain applications would definitely help to alleviate some of these concerns. It is still Beta 1, though, so maybe new features like these will be added for future releases.
Overall, though, I think Microsoft did a great job with this very important addition to the feature set of Windows. Having this type of granular control over what users are doing on the computer will definitely make a lot of parents feel better with their children using the computer.