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Safe Eyes 2006

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From sexual predators in online chat rooms to graphic violent and pornographic images, there are lots of reasons why parents are concerned about what their children may find online. And as much as we’d like to monitor our kids 24 hours a day, that is neither practical nor desirable. Safe Eyes 2006 is designed to help parents control the flow of content from the Internet into the home. Unfortunately, while Safe Eyes shows promise, it’s not the ideal solution to the problem.

Accounts for all

To use Safe Eyes, you must first create a master account on the Safe Eyes Web site and then install the software. After that, you create user accounts for anyone who will be using the Internet on a particular computer. For the adults, you’ll want to create unrestricted Web access accounts with all sites enabled. For the kids, you’ll probably want one account per child. These accounts exist on the Safe Eyes server, not on your Mac. You’ll need to be creative with your account naming, as the names must be unique in the global population of Safe Eyes’ users.

Each user can have unique access rights using a number of the program’s features such as: block/allow certain categories of Web sites; block/allow specific sites; prevent certain key words from being sent to search engines; install a pop-up blocker; enable usage logging; and create usage alerts that can be sent via email, phone, or text message (the last, for an extra fee). All of these settings are also server-based, meaning that any machine in your home will have access to the same users and rules.

Surprisingly, the Mac version of Safe Eyes lacks many critical features, such as blocking chat and peer-to-peer software, which are currently available in the Windows version of the software. Similarly, program control (which governs applications that can communicate from your computer to the Internet), usage logging for instant messages, and online time limits are not functional in the Mac version. The pop-up blocker is nothing more than a set of instructions on how to use Safari’s pop-up blocker. The program’s packaging does not differentiate the Mac from the PC version, and is thus misleading.

Windows interface

The Safe Eyes interface is Windows-centric—there are no Mac-style buttons, the windows can’t be resized, the fonts are small, and at times, it’s unclear exactly where you are supposed to click. For example, the log viewer cannot be resized, despite the fact that you can’t see the full URLs within the window’s width. Even worse, you can’t copy and paste the text to a text editor, so you’re stuck with what you can’t see.

While there is limited help from a Help menu within the application, there’s no full user manual.

Different accounts

Once installed, Safe Eyes is active for every user, which is why you’ll want to have full access accounts along with the limited access kids’ accounts. Otherwise, browsing even safe sites can be troublesome—I found many Web ads blocked when using a restricted account, yet when I checked those same sites from another machine, the ads were relatively innocuous.

As I surfed with a restricted account, I found that Safe Eyes generally did a good job with its blocking—loading a blocked URL resulted in a message explaining why the site had been blocked. Using Google, however, I was able to find alternative methods of viewing blocked content, allowing me to see at least some of it. An enterprising teenager would probably be able to find better workarounds than I did.

If you’re using an Intel-powered Mac and have installed either Boot Camp or Parallels (   ), keep in mind that you’ll also need to block Web access from Windows XP. As a test, I ran Windows XP in Parallels, and was able to surf the net freely, even though Safe Eyes was running. I then installed Safe Eyes for XP and found it worked fine in Parallels. And because the $50 a year license is good for three computers, you don’t have to pay extra for a Windows OS via Parallels.

Macworld’s buying advice

While Safe Eyes 2006 does a good job at blocking questionable Internet content, its inability to block instant messaging and peer-to-peer traffic leaves your children exposed to things you may not want them to see. When you add in the non-Mac-like user interface, the annual subscription fee, and the feature disparity between the Mac and the Windows versions, it’s difficult to recommend Safe Eyes at this time—the company has told us a new Mac version is in the works and due out sometime in the first quarter of 2007. Until it’s released, however, purchasers of the current version of Safe Eyes may be disappointed by some of the missing features.

[Macworld ’s Senior Editor Rob Griffiths runs the Mac OS X Hints Web site. ]

A single window controls all aspects of Safe Eyes’ configuration. The tabs along the top take you to the various option screens, but don’t bother trying Program Control or Popup Blocker, as those features don’t exist in the Mac version of the program.
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