by FrostApps team on 2010-06-04 15:28:04
Version reviewed: Award Parental Control 2.1.1
Being a responsible parent these days is very hard job, especially when it comes to the Internet and countless dangers that internet carries with it. Fact is, internet is spreading like a virus and you can do nothing about it. However, as a parent it's up to you to exercise control and therefore you can gradually prepare your children for the inevitable introduction to the world of computers and internet step by step.
Award Parental Control allows users to impose needed number of access restrictions in order to control and monitor children use of the computer and Internet. The program is extremely easy to use, developer definitely put the emphasis on simplicity yet Award Parental Control still allows comprehensive control over all the existing functions. Basically you can do anything you want, all you need to do is to decide how strongly you want to tie their hands and just how thorough you want to monitor computer and Internet use. The program lets you control Web browsing, set application blocking, disable anti-spywares, schedule time limits and much more.
First on our agenda is "WebSite Blocking" option which, obviously the name speaks for itself, allows you to forbid visits to certain sites. At first glance, we were pleasantly surprised since it has "both ways" method including Website Whitelist and Website Blacklist blocking option. Each approach has its advantages and we believe that it is of key importance that the program supports both in order to more easily respond to certain situations. Website Blacklist allows you to restrict access to certain sites for which you think that may have a bad influence on your children. During the testing Website Blacklist approach showed its strength, everything went smooth and it managed to successfully complete the task with no effort whatsoever. On the other hand Website Whitelist primary purpose is to allow access only to Web sites you've previously approved, otherwise all urls which are different from the one you specified will simply be ignored. At least in theory. While we were testing Website Whitelist approach, we were constantly having the same problem. We were unable to make it work, no matter how hard we tried it simple ignored to block those sites. Immediately it was clear to us what the problem is, it does not support all browsers since it was unable to complete the task with Firefox 3.6.3 and Opera 10.51. The fact is you can not guess which browser users will mostly use, and therefore if it does not work with even one major browser such as Firefox, function is useless.
Although the program is primarily intended to be used as a tool for controlling and monitoring the use of the Internet, it has implemented the option for Application Blocking just in case you need a little more control. Basically you can restrict access to any .exe file on the computer's hard drive including software or games, however keep in mind this is not some powerful administrator tool which will help you cover every single aspect of the computer. For the purposes of testing we blocked several applications, there were no surprises here and we can say that Application Blocking control does what it's supposed to do.
Another interesting feature is "Time Controller" that gives you the possibility for setting up the time you don't want your children to have access to the Internet, thus controlling the time they spend online. Here you can easily set specific time span during which your children will be able to use the internet while the rest of the time during the day the Internet remains blocked. Also you can schedule your computer for shutdown precisely at a certain time.
Also just to keep you posted about everything, to be your "eyes on the sky", the program has implemented a feature called "Logging". Basically, it captures every single activity made on the computer and store it to the safe location on the HDD previously specified by you. It Records keystrokes, captures clipboard data, captures login information (account and password), records launched applications, makes a screenshot on mouse click, records blocked websites/applications and much more. Every single aspect is covered, however isn't this too much!? Yes we know that children are the ones who will mostly be monitored, even though we cannot come to terms with the fact that you can see their login informations. Yes, parents we know all and need to stay skeptical about this, however we see it as some sort of invading the privacy and we cannot support it. Anyway to keep you in the loop if you are gone to work or no matter where you can have email report sent to you, to inform you at a specific time period (15 min default). Just to mention, all activities can be accessed through "Log Viewer" button from the main screen.
The list of functions goes even beyond, you can disable Anti-Spywares, enter the keywords you want to detect, enable snapshot recording, enable eye protector and much more. A little more about "Snapshot recording" feature. Well, its intent is clear but the one thing has gained our attention here and that is why it is not set to stretch to fit the screen. From our point of view this is rather ridiculous then useful because it is set to record default screen resolution, 1024x768 pix.
Of course in addition, as well as in all the tools in class to prevent bypassing the permissions a password can be set and program can be launched on windows start just to keep you one step ahead of your children.
Though, all the settings are extremely easy to set and this tool has not confusing parts whatsoever, for those users who find for some reason this tool confusing, well, this tool does not come with detailed built in help file. There is only "Online help", like some sort of short thesis on how to get started and nothing more. We need to repeat ourselves, so even if we cannot imagine how this tool can be easier to use, we encourage developer to make a little bit more detailed help file especially since target group are parents, who can be with no previous experience with computers whatsoever.
As for the software looks, Award Parental Control comes with a clean, simplified interface, nice blue parts on the bottom/the top and "Select An Action" buttons fit pretty good in the whole composition. Those parts don't lack anything. On the other hand everything else basically looks average, a lot of white color, default looking "Tasks" links and that is it. Award Parental Control really needs a little more face lifting.
Long story short, Award Parental Control puts serious power in your hands, it impressed us with its simplicity and intelligibility and at some point we cannot neglect its efficiency. Now, despite of the fact it maybe needs some adjustments considering a few minor drawbacks, we still think this is great tool with a lot of potential, maybe not the best out there, but it stands a good chance against the competition.