Christmas came a few days early at our house! Santa made an early delivery, and we had a broadband internet connection installed via our local cable company. After the cable company installed the cable modem, we installed a wireless network into our home. We purchased a combination Router, Firewall, and Wireless Access Point. Our laptop already had a WIFI adapter built-in. For our desktop, we got a USB attached wireless network adapter.
We no longer tie up the phone line for hours to be on the internet -- no more having to forward the home phone to the cell phone if we were expecting an important phone call. The router allows both computers to share the cable modem connection at the same time. Another benefit with the wireless network is that we can take the laptop anywhere in the house and still have an internet connection -- without cables! This will be particularly helpful for our homeschool. All these benefits are nice, let alone the major increase in speed. Downloading programs, or updating the windows operating system happens in seconds, instead of hours. For our Windows 2000 computer, we would often have to leave the computer on all night, with the phone line tied up to download the needed updates.
With the high-speed, always-on internet connection, we found that we had a greater need for internet filtering and parental controls. On dial-up, the slow speed prevented access to a lot of things. We found our 12-year old son innocently playing a game of checkers on-line at a game site. The checkers game also included a chat room on the sidebar. We told Bryan that we did not want him engaging in chat rooms, fearful that he might be tricked into giving out personal information. So we began a search for filtering and parental control technology. Some of these things we can block out with the hardware firewall. But even blocking certain activities with the firewall still won't block out harmful content. (Unless you want to make your own list of all of the thousands of undesireable websites, and then enter them all into the firewall, and then keep the list current and updated all the time. -- No Thanks, that's what you pay for with web filtering software.)
I searched a number of advisory websites. First I went to Kim Kommando's web site for her recommendations. Next I went to Consumer Reports for their review of internet filters and parental controls. Click here to see the Consumer Reports recommendations. Safe Eyes was the top recommendation from Consumer Reports.
After reading several reviews and recommendations, we have installed a free trial of the Safe Eyes filtering system. There were several things we liked about this system over the others. First, you don't have to download updates to banned sites (or "black list") to your computer(s) every few days. The the black list is kept on safe eyes' web site. Second, it is very flexible. Now each member of the family must enter their own unique user id and password to have any access to the Internet. Each person can have a unique profile of the types of web sites they are allowed to access, and the types of activities they are allowed to do on the internet. You can also set up designated time periods when each user is allowed to have access to the internet. Another thing we liked was that you pay one fee, up front for use of the software. No annual subscription fees to renew each year. Also when you purchase Safe Eyes, you are licensed to install it on up to three computers. So we can install it on both of our computers, without having to purchase it twice! Finally, Safe Eyes seems to have a minimal impact on internet access speed. I don't notice much, if any difference in speed with the filtering program in place.
In setting up the profiles, you can block certain activities on the internet for each user, if desired. For the kids, we were able to block chat rooms, email, peer to peer transfers, FTP, and instant messaging. We were also able to block a host of web sites for the kids including por*ography, adult content, games, gambling, auctions, violence, weapons, murder/suicide, school cheating, and several other types of web sites. Even for the us adults, we still blocked anything indecent, or immoral. Other things, like auctions, we allowed access to mom and dad. (Ebay comes in really handy sometimes, especially around Christmas!)
I have just installed it tonight, and set up the user profiles for each member of the family. We will have to try it out for a few days and see how we like it in practice. In theory it sounds great! I'll give a report in a week or so when our 15-day trial period runs out. Just from what I have seen thus far, I anticipate that we will be purchasing this product. However, we want to see it running in practice for a few days -- the proof will be in the pudding.
Of course, the best web filter of all is parents. The computers will be in public places in the house, and there will be a parent nearby when any of the children are on the internet. Still, having this protection brings us a level of relief, now that the internet is more accessible to us than ever before.