Windows Vista Parental Controls
Most of the info on this blog has been focused on the benefits of User Account Control for the enterprise and was written for IT professionals and developers. This post highlights one of the key benefits for home computer users, and in particular, for parents.
One of the limitations to providing really complete parental controls in the past was that all users of the computers were administrators and could probably undo most of the settings the parent tried to enforce. Windows Vista helps solve that problem by enabling people to use Windows without administrator privileges and adds a robust set of Parental Controls that parents can use to ensure their children are accessing appropriate programs and Web sites, when it is appropriate for them to be doing so.
To illustrate how the Family Safety Settings work and how they are integrated with User Account Control, I will use characters in a fictitious family where Abby is the parent and Toby is the child. Abby and Toby are personas that we’ve been using for years in developing Windows Vista and you will see these names often in screenshots on Microsoft.com and in demonstrations of Windows Vista.
Integral to the successful use of parental controls is the concept of User Account Control, and individual, non-administrator accounts for each user. Abby empowers Toby by giving him his own logon account, but with parameters that ensure she can confidently give him his independence within that account.
After creating an account for Toby, Abby enables Parental Controls on Toby’s account through the Control Panel. Abby can chose to limit what Web sites Toby can visit, what programs and games Toby can use, what time he can use the computer, and she can also access a report on all of his activities. Parental Controls in Windows Vista gives parents the option of taking a more active role in their children’s safe computer use, if they so choose, and can facilitate some healthy discussions about boundaries and how to stay safe online.
To encourage a collaborative approach to child safe computing, limitations set through Parental Controls are not hidden in Windows Vista - if Toby tries to access a Web site that his mother did not give him permission to see, he will see the following screen in his Web browser informing him that the Web site is blocked.
However, the screen also provides a link to “Ask an administrator for permission” to visit the site. If he clicks that link, he will be given the User Account Control over-the shoulder credentials prompt. This way if Abby feels like this is a site she wants Toby to visit, she has an easy way to grant permission.
After she provides her password, she is given one more dialog so she knows exactly what site she is giving Toby access to.
This example highlights the need to have strong passwords for all computer accounts. If Abby’s password was blank or easily guessed, Toby could easily circumvent the parental controls.
This also underscores the need for software that works well for non-administrator accounts. We anticipate that the Parental Controls will be a primary reason that many families want to get a computer with Windows Vista. However, since Parental Controls can only be enabled for non-administrator accounts, it is important that software developers create software—particularly educational tools, games, and other programs designed for children—that works well for standard users.
- Alex Heaton
User Account Control Product Manager