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Microsoft Family Safety review

Simon Handby
12 Oct 2010
Our Rating 

Family Safety is free, comprehensive and resisted our attempts to bypass it. Its default settings should be stricter, though.

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Microsoft's Family Safety comes bundled with the corporation's Windows Live Essentials suite, which contains other free software that might be useful, such as Windows Live Mail and Writer. During setup you can choose which – if any – of the other Live Essentials packages that you want to install.

When we first tried to run Family Safety, signing in using a long-standing Windows Live ID, we were presented with a rather brusque message informing us that we hadn't reviewed or accepted the Windows Live terms of use. Although this dialogue pointed us in the direction of a web link where we could atone for this, we were still unable to specifically accept the terms. In the end, we had to create a new Windows Live ID from scratch, which was annoying.

Once installed and running, Family Safety allows you to select which of the computer user accounts you want to monitor. It points out that children shouldn’t have accounts with administrator privileges and recommends that you add passwords where there are none. Its default settings add basic web filtering and activity reporting to each selected account, but you can visit the Family Safety website to make further refinements. In the latest version, support has been added for blocking games and other programs.

By default, Microsoft's control software takes a dim view of pornography, doing a particularly good job of blocking our attempts to visit sexual and dating websites, and blocking Google searches for sexual terms. It was also one of the best packages when it came to allowing access to informative sites such as those covering sexual health topics, but the default settings also allowed access to all of the self-harm, drug and hate sites on our list. Switching to a stricter setting blocked these, but also many innocent sites that we would be happy to let older children access.

Family safety is a new product that's still being improved. The fact that the latest release adds program blocking to an already effective web filter makes it unbeatable, given that it's free.

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