Keeping the kids out of harm's way

It's nice when your children take an interest in your hobbies, But you probably don't want to share everything with them.

Having recently become a father, my thoughts are occupied by the usual parental worries such as how to keep my little boy safe once he starts to move around on his own. So off I went and kitted myself out with all the standard gadgets - power point covers, safety gates and a video guard.

Then I realised that it wouldn't be long before he would be wanting to copy his dad and get his sticky little fingers on my PC. How was I going to keep all my important documents and his priceless digital baby photos safe? The mixture of toddler and technology started to look more than a little dangerous.

Rather than cough up a fortune for extra software - my life savings have already been poured into Huggies' pockets - I wondered what built-in safeguards Windows XP already offers. The obvious place to go when you want to take control of your PC and ensure that your data isn't tampered with - or inadvertently wiped by an inquisitive child - is the User Accounts. To access these features just go to the Control Panel and click on User Accounts.

Hirschkorn & Son

From here you can set up an account for each member of the family who will use the computer. To create a new account, select this feature and type in the name of the prospective account holder. Then you have to choose what sort of account you want to create: Administrator or Limited. Now as smart as my boy will inevitably be, I think he is a little too young to be granted Administrator status. Sorry son, you're going to be Limited for the time being. By choosing this option the little one won't be able to make system-wide changes, delete, alter or create other accounts or install software. Limited account holders can change their own passwords, view their files and those held in shared folders. They can also do fun things such as adding themes and user pictures. It is worth noting, however, that Limited accounts may have trouble running pre-Windows XP software.

Protect your privacy

Once you have created accounts for all your PC's users, everyone logs in to their own account from the startup screen. As long as your account is password-protected, no one else can access it. Just remember that when you set up your own account you should make your files private. Otherwise users will still be able to get into them.

To make logging on to your computer even more secure, you can choose to switch off the Welcome screen, where users can simply click on their username to access the system. This is replaced by the classic Windows logon screen that requires you to type in a username and password to access your PC, creating a double defence against unauthorised users. Of course it will be a while before my son will actually require his own account, but I'm sure it won't be nearly so long until he climbs on to my lap and starts trying to copy Daddy by bashing away on the keyboard. Sadly, I am not sure PC World's commissioning editors will fully appreciate his efforts, so to keep my work safe from my child I can simply hit the -L to instantly log off. Or you can use the Helpscreen tip on page 118 to create a shortcut that will lock your system until you return.

If you don't fancy logging off every time you nip away from your PC for a cup of tea then you could set up a password-protected screensaver. To activate this you have to have a password for your user account. Then all you need to do is choose a screensaver and check the box that asks for the Welcome screen to be displayed on your return.

Swift secrecy

If you are, for example, looking at a screen that's inappropriate for innocent eyes and you need to mask your screen in a hurry, you can set up a shortcut on your desktop that will instantly activate your screensaver.

To do this, first set one up on your PC, then do a search for the SCR file extension that denotes a screensaver. From the list of files retrieved you should be able to find the one you want - for example, SSMYPICS.SCR denotes the saver created from a slideshow of your own pictures. Once you have found this, note down its location on your system - mine was in C:\Windows\System32. Right-click an empty part of the desktop, select New then Shortcut. Browse your files until you find the screensaver and click Next.

You can then name your shortcut whatever you want. From now on a simple double-click on your shortcut will activate your screensaver and, if you have it password-protected as outlined above, no one will be able to get at your PC again until you let them in.

If you're looking even further ahead and worrying about what to do when your kids are old enough to have secrets of their own and start using passwords on their accounts to keep you out, don't panic. As long as you have an administrator account, you can change the password on other accounts just as easily as you can your own. Of course, they'll soon spot that you've done this, so if you're really determined to see what your offspring is using your PC for, the only option left to you is to indulge in a bit of espionage and install some spy software.

Get Netwise

www.getnetwise.org

If you've been using the Web for a while, the chances are you'll already know about the risks that the Internet carries with it, and how to minimise them. But if you're new to browsing, or just want to make sure that you have all the bases covered, then this Web site is worth a look. It's a public information site, and contains a wide range of articles that may help keep you and your kids safe online.

Spies for Peeping parents

There's plenty of software out there that helps you snoop on what's happening on your PC. Paid-for email accounts such as AOL and MSN will keep a log of every Web site visited, as well as all emails and instant messages sent. They can also help you lock down what your kids can send and receive and which sites they can visit. If you want to get slightly more radical you could try installing some spy software.

US firm SpectorSoft has two products, Spector Pro 5.0 and eBlaster 3.0, which promise to capture all internet and computer activity - even down to what keystrokes your child is typing. eBlaster can be used to remotely monitor a computer's use, emailing you updates on what your little angels are up to. Both can be bought online from www.spectorsoft.com for $US99.95.

Mike Hirschkorn is a freelance journalist and technical consultant who has been writing about computers for seven years. His first love was a Macintosh, but he has seen sense and realised that Windows and the Mac can happily live side by side in today's cross-platform world.

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