February 03, 2008

Child-Safe Web Browsers on the Mac

The time has come in our house to find a good child-friendly web browser for the Macintosh. Our choice, so far, is Bumper Car. Is this the best brower for us? Perhaps.

A year ago or so, we tried out "Kid Browser." The idea of it seemed good, but it seemed more limiting than what we were looking for. We had difficulty with just working through all the website we wanted to turn into bookmarks. I notice that there's a new version out, so probably will download it again and see how it works. It also includes an area for math flashcards, Lite Brite-type art, and pixel drawing. I noticed that there are only 988 registered users in the parental chat area. The creators are thinking of adding a kids' social area. This review has good screen shots, and as the writer notes, it's just available for the Macintosh. As this review notes, once Kid Browser is loaded it takes over the entire screen. We found that somewhat limit, altho I'm sure lots of parents would like this aspect.

Looking at the several child oriented browsers listed at Tech Republic, it's clear that there are a lot more options for Windows users. Half way down this article from "The X Lab" is a list of some Mac browsers for kids.

I did try the Parental Controls on Safari. From what I can figure out, the main thing that it does is allow a user only to get onto the sites put on the Bookmark Bar. Since I usually just use the Bar for the sites I visit most frequently, I had to rethink my approach to the Bar. Essentially this limits a user to just a few sites. I just think this is too limiting. It requires a lot of work on the parents' part to put on all the sites in the Bar. After awhile, the Bar gets full. Parental Controls also takes away the Google window.

This leads us to Free Verse software's Bumper Car [BC], which is an overlay on Safari. The name comes from the design in some of its options that looks like a bumper car moving around to different categories. It looks best under Young Child for Home. BC comes with many websites pre-approved on Whitelists. Parents can add to the Whitelists, or add to the Favorites in the Bookmark Menu. Parents can also pre-determine information that a child can put into forms or type in online (I think). This would prevent children from giving out their name, phone number, email, or address.

Another control that can be customized is blocking words on a website. The list of x-rated possible words is rather long. Unfortunately, when we tried to practice this week's spelling list on Wizard Spell, Bumper Car blocked it. I am not sure what was happening because, as you can imagine, the words on a third grade spelling list are not x-rated. But somehow Bumper Car thought there were different words.

Bumper Car can be downloaded for $29.94, or the CD with the same written descriptions as available on the website can be purchased. This seems a fair charge.

Bumper Car only works with OS 10.4 or higher. Bumper Car also recommends and shows how to create a child's account using OS 10.4

I have spent more than an hour customizing Bumper Car so that it includes the popular kid programs in our household. I forsee more time putting in sites, but that is okay.

Another nice aspect is that you can control how far afield child users can link some the original website. You can specify two pages or up to 8. You can also control how long a user can be on Bumper Car and what hours during the day. This works.

I haven't upgraded to the new Mac OS, which has more parental controls. So I'm not quite sure what more I'll be able to do.

So far Bumper Car I seem to be able to customize it more than Kid Browser and seems more geared to older children. I'll be interested how long we use it

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