Is Apple Going All Out Online?

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Forget about sleek new PowerBooks and flashy operating systems. To hear Apple (800/767-2775, ) tell it, the future of the company includes more than just hardware and software. Indeed, its newly announced Internet strategy seems to be steering Apple toward the increasingly crowded neighborhood of online portals.

The strategy was unveiled at January's Macworld Expo by iCEO?that's i as in Internet , not interim ?Steve Jobs. Apple has spruced up its Web site with new services and other tools that exploit the features in Mac OS 9 (see " Mac Tools Get OS-Specific," elsewhere in this section). Among the additions are a service that offers Web-site reviews and a tool that controls where kids can surf online.

Reviews Revealed

The reviews feature?dubbed iReview?includes Web-site descriptions and ratings Apple has put together. The reviews cover 15 categories, such as computers, news, movies, and finance sites. Users can suggest Web sites for Apple to review or can provide rankings of their own?but only if they sign up as members at Apple's Web site. And you can register only if you're using Mac OS 9.

"We're going to do for reviews what did for books and CDs," Jobs declared during his Macworld Expo keynote speech.

Of course, it's not quite that simple. Apple's foray into the world of Web reviews raises several questions about Apple's direction and intentions. Who's responsible for the reviews, and what are their criteria? Who decides which sites to review? And most important, can users count on Apple to give objective, trustworthy reviews when dealing with the Web sites of its partners?or its rivals?

Apple's not planning to divulge the names of employees who write and publish iReview, citing the same company policy that exists for other products. But what works for hardware and software may not carry over so well to the world of content.

Safe at Home?

Apple's other venture into Web content is KidSafe, a tool that aims to protect children when they venture onto the Internet. Besides preventing kids from surfing adult Web sites, the feature can also disable e-mail, chat rooms, or games. Mac OS 9 users can download KidSafe from Apple's Web site and install it on their desktops. Parents can use OS 9's Multiple Users function to turn KidSafe off when they're on the computer.

KidSafe works differently from most filtering programs. Those programs specify what kids can't see, using words and terms to block forbidden sites. KidSafe, on the other hand, specifies what children can see, using a database of 50,000 approved Web sites. A panel of teachers and librarians selects those sites; Jobs says Apple will add 10,000 Web sites to its KidSafe database each month.

That approach is an effective way to protect kids, online-safety experts say. But it has its drawbacks, too. No matter how thorough Apple's database, people using KidSafe still have to accept limitations they may not always agree with. Parents can add approved Web sites to KidSafe, but the majority of the decisions over what's appropriate have been made for them.

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