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Windows 7: Safeguarding Windows 7 – Parental Controls

26 May 2009   #1

 
Safeguarding Windows 7 – Parental Controls

Quote:
As you can imagine, our team is quite busy working through this next phase of Windows 7. We definitely appreciate the millions of downloads and installs of the Windows 7 RC. Things are going as we expect at this point. On a personal note, I wanted to thank all the folks who have been sending me mail. I’ve received a lot of kind words and support regarding the RC and quite a few people saying “hurry up and just release it”. We outlined the steps we’re taking for this next milestone and aren’t going to rush things. We’ve got a lot of work for sure! Not that I’m counting, but I just crossed over 3,000 emails sent via the contact link in this blog. While I haven’t answered all of them, I’ve done the best I can, and appreciate each and every exchange.

Windows 7 includes a set of features for safeguarding your PC when used by children. This post is by Vladimir Rovinsky, a program manager on our Safety Team, who details the features in Windows 7 specifically around Parental Controls. This work is in addition to the safety of the OS itself and of course the features built into Internet Explorer to provide safety and security while browsing. You might also want to check out Windows Live Family Safety which is part of Windows Live Essentials (http://download.live.com) which provides even more for safety and parental controls. --Steven

Today, children are exposed to digital hazards more easily than any time in the past. Especially with the help of powerful search tools, convenient social networking applications, low cost tools and services for publishing videos and photographs, the web is awash with content that’s inappropriate for children, and full of people that parents want to bar from contacting their children.

These digital hazards are accessible to children through a variety of applications, including web browsers, instant messaging applications, media players, games, and email applications. Many of these applications have attempted to offer parental control features. However, they offer this functionality through variety of user interfaces, locations and include varied terminology. The duplication and inconsistency of parental control settings management can make it difficult for parents to maintain the correct settings across multiple applications.

Windows Vista Parental Controls provided a framework to solve these problems by offering:
  • A single, central location in the Windows Control Panel to configure and manage parental control settings and activities;
  • Built-in restrictions on web content and file downloads, time spent on the computer, application usage, game usage as well as the ability to log and view user activity.
  • The Windows Parental Control platform public application programming interfaces (API) which expose in-box restriction settings and logging functionality to any application. For instance, Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox 3.0 are using these APIs to determine if file downloads should be blocked for a user.
  • Integration with the User Account Control (UAC) to enforce standard user accounts for parentally controlled users; promotion of best practices for keeping kids safer on a Windows computer; for instance, encouraging the creation of separate standard accounts for managed children, password creation for parent accounts (administrators), etc.
To get a quick demo of Windows Vista Parental Controls in action, check out this video.

For more information about developing software for Windows Vista Parental Controls, see Using Parental Controls APIs.

Key Design Decisions for updates to Windows 7 Parental Controls

Responding to customer feedback and evolving nature of the web and challenges it poses to the parents, we strive to provide families with flexible and effective safety features. Our efforts for the Windows 7 release of Parental Controls were focused on the following objectives:

1. Further developing the extensibility of the Parental Controls platform to enable third-party developers to create richer Parental Control capabilities that integrate well with Windows 7 Parental Controls.

The Windows 7 Parental Controls platform was modified to allow multiple independent providers of Parental Controls functionality to be installed on the system and augment or fully replace the parental controls provided by Windows 7. Windows Vista allowed partial replacement of Windows Parental Controls; the web filter was replaceable. In Windows 7, in addition to the web filter components, the entire Windows 7 Parental Controls user interface can be replaced by third-party providers. The underlying enforcement of the offline restrictions will still be performed by Windows Parental Controls platform. Allowing a third party provider to replace the entire Windows Parental Controls user interface creates a consistent user experience that seamlessly combines existing Parental Controls functionality with the new ones introduced by the third-party provider.

The Windows Control Panel Parental Controls screen still remains the central location and launching point on Windows 7 for Parental Controls functionality regardless of whether it is provided by default (system) or by a third-party provider.

2. Removal of web content restrictions and activity viewing functionality from default (system) Parental controls provider and reliance on Windows Live or third-party providers for these capabilities.

The web is changing much faster than we can update the Windows operating system. For example, when Vista was released Social Networking was barely known. Now it has a thriving web presence. We need to keep web focused parental controls up with innovation. Because of this, we have moved them into Windows Live.

Web filtering and activity viewing capabilities can be more efficiently provided by Windows Live or a third-party solution that implement web based delivery of this functionality. For instance, Microsoft’s Windows Live Family Safety free application provides web content filtering, file downloads restrictions, and activity monitoring. It also provides online contact restrictions for children using Windows Live online applications (Windows Live Hotmail, Windows Live Messenger, etc).

You can learn more about Windows Live Family Safety solution here.

More information about Windows 7 changes to the Parental Controls platform can be found here.

Windows 7 Parental Controls User Interface Changes.

Elements new to Windows 7 Parental controls top-level screen can be seen on the following screen shot:



Figure 1 Windows 7 Parental Controls screen
  1. The Additional controls section allows users to select a provider for additional controls such as web filtering, activity reporting, online contact management, etc. When a third-party controls provider’s installed on the computer, the screen displays the Select a provider drop down box that shows the currently selected (active) provider. A description of the provider’s functionality, as supplied by the provider, is shown below the drop down.
  2. When the user account is selected by clicking user’s name or picture, the provider configuration for the user is launched. The provider can take over the default configuration UI for the in-box offline restrictions. Optionally, provider generated status strings for user accounts are displayed under user account pictures.
  3. An Icon supplied by provider is shown in the upper right corner of the screen.
Additional control providers can still rely on the default’s (system) provider UI for the configuration of in-box offline restrictions. If a provider chooses to do so, the User Controls screen can be presented to configure a user’s Parental Controls settings.

If an additional provider is selected and configured, the following new user interface elements are shown on the Windows 7 User Controls screen:



Figure 2 Windows 7 User Controls screen. Additional controls provider is installed and configured.
  1. More Settings allows direct access to the currently selected provider’s functionality.
  2. Web Restrictions allows access to the currently selected provider’s functionality.
Windows Parental Controls settings and Vista to Windows 7 upgrade

If a Windows Vista PC which has parentally managed user accounts with enabled web filtering restrictions is upgraded to Windows 7, parents (administrators) are warned during the upgrade as well as when opening the Windows 7 Parental Controls screen, that web filtering and activity reporting functionality is not part of Windows 7 Parental Controls.



Figure 3 Windows 7 Parental Controls screen. Some users have web filtering restrictions. No additional provider is installed.

Windows Vista Parental Controls settings (including web filtering and activity logs information) are preserved unchanged when upgrading from Windows Vista to Windows 7. Although web filtering settings and activity logs information are not used by Windows 7 Parental controls, their preservation allows third-party provider to honor these settings.

As you start using Windows 7, we hope these changes to Parental Controls capabilities will make you feel more confident and in control of how your family members are using computers and experiencing the web.

--Vladimir

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