Plus for Kids is for parents, too

by Alan Zisman (c) 1997. First published in Computer Player, August 1997.

Microsoft Plus for Kids
Microsoft Corp.
Requires: 8MB RAM; 32MB hard drive space; Windows 95; CD-ROM drive
Price: $24.95

It gives you kid-oriented desktop themes, it gives you parent-oriented control. It's for kids who like horses, kids who like snowboarding, kids who'd rather their computer looks like a messy room. It's Microsoft's new Plus! for Kids.

Designed as an enhancement for Windows 95 and NT family computer users, P4K does a good job of appealing at the same to time to kids and their parents.

Kids will like at least some of the ten desktop themes. These themes, as in the original, adult-oriented Plus! Pack, give you wallpaper, icons, sounds, screen savers, and even animated cursors built around a single idea... space, baseball, rain forests, underwater, and a realistically cozy messy room.

Kids will also enjoy the included applications... Paint It! is not surprisingly, a paint program with some way-cool clipart. Play It! gives a synthesizer keyboard, complete with recording capabilities... add your own melodies to pre-fab rhythms. Talk It! plays back what your child types.

Mom and Dad will by happy with the control that P4K gives them over their children's use of the computer. Building on Win95's built-in, but hard to control security capabilities, P4K makes it easy to give each child their own log-in. This lets each member of the family have their own customized desktop-complete with their preferred theme. But more important, it lets parents control access to documents and applications on their computer... the Protect It! utility lets parents ensure that their children can't delete the system files or their work files, for example... and each child can have their own, customized Start Menu.

(One glitch-P4K shuts off CD-ROM Autoplay, which automatically runs disks when they're inserted into the CD player... a nice feature, especially for young children.)

P4K also tried to provide a similar level of control and security over children's Web surfing- with less success. Parents can restrict children's access to sites that have been rated by the Recreational Software Advisory Council (RSAC), screening out sex, violence, and bad language. However, most sites are currently unrated-this doesn't mean they're objectionable. The option of limiting children's surfing to sites with acceptable ratings shuts off the Yahoo search engine, for example. In addition to P4K's built-in Web control, a trial-version of SurfWatch is included.

For under $30, Microsoft's Plus! for Kids provides a nice mix of applications and customization for kids, with well-implemented security features for parents or teachers. Businesses with multiple-users on their computers may want to take a look at Symantec's $99 For Your Eyes Only.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan