Online Family is easy to configure and friendly to use, producing great results. Sadly, it's not infallible.
Last time we looked at Norton Online Family it was free, but unfinished and still in beta testing. Our understanding then was that it would be chargeable once released, but Online Family is now complete and we’re pleased to see that Norton has decided to keep it free. It’s more comprehensive than some free offerings, providing instant messaging monitoring, but not program blocking.
Before you get as far as setting up the software, you need to create an account on the Online Family part of Norton’s website. After setting yourself up as the administrator, you add accounts for each of your children and give each a suitable avatar. We’re particularly keen on Norton’s open approach to setting the house rules, where the adult is encouraged to sit with the children and explain the rules that are being established and why. Given that no protection can be regarded as foolproof, and most children will have access to the internet through multiple avenues, it seems prudent to encourage discussion and understanding from the start. Online Family bases its default rules for a child on their date of birth, with the oldest supported year (at the time of our review) being 1993 (17 years old).
With the relevant accounts created, you need to install the Safety Minder software on each PC your children will use. Provided the names of the computer accounts that your children use match the profiles you create in Online Family, Safety Minder will correctly associate the two, helping keep configuration simple – particularly if you have several computers. The software recognises the parent account, and does not filter or monitor it, though it’s easy to change this if you want to. Like many of the software packages here, you need to provide your username and password to uninstall it, even when logged on as yourself – a sensible extra precaution.
Online Family’s default performance was excellent, particularly when it came to blocking undesirable websites. Unfortunately, although it blocked access to online proxy sites, it was defeated by our USB proxy software, allowing any user to view unrestricted web pages. Microsoft’s Family Safety, which also has more features, passed this test and so Online Family misses out on an award. It’s a shame, because it’s easy to configure and produces great results with the default settings.