Son Media Monitor software review

Software, Uncategorized
September 18, 2003

Last month we reported to you that we had become a distribution point for the Son Media family of online safety products and services. We are very happy to be able to bring this line of products to you which includes pre-filtered dial-up Internet service, pre-filtered broadband Internet service, add-on filtering compatible with any other Internet service provider, safe email, keyboard control software, time management software and monitoring software.

Now, it may seem like I’m shooting myself in the foot here but I’m going to share a little secret with you anyway. I’m not terribly fond of filtering where someone else sets the rules. Were it not for the demand, I would prefer not to sell it at all. Ultimately, I would like there to be no need for it at all. In its’ place, responsible content publishing combined with filtering whose rules are set by you, the end user. I believe that day will come, but that day is certainly not today. In today’s instant gratification society where people are conditioned to have everything spoon fed to them, the need to fill that gap is very real. The reality is there is a need for these products. As long as the need exists, I will be there to help supply those needs.

One class of products I do not have a problem with, however, is the software monitor, with one disclaimer. If you are going to monitor your children’s’ online activities using monitor software, even if it is legal where you live to do it secretly (and in most places it is), please tell them anyway. It’s not worth damaging your relationship with them if they find out you’ve been eavesdropping in on them secretly. If there’s a concern about their online activity, tell them you’re concerned. Let them know you care. Spend some time with them online. You might just find you don’t need it. You might just have some fun together!

If all else fails, you spoken to them, you can’t seem to communicate that certain behavior is unacceptable in your household, since you can’t be there every minute tell them you’re going to watch using monitoring software. The concept is very simple. Your house. Your computer. Your Internet service. You’re the parent. You make the rules.

Son Media monitoring software is basically a private labeled version of WinVestigator by Tropical Soft. The program comes on CD and installation is very straight forward. You must have an active Internet connection at the time of installation in order to complete the online registration. Otherwise, you can run it for 30 days in demo mode without registering. Demo mode is 100% functional for the 30 days after which it expires and you must register to make it work at all. If you run into any trouble, Son Media tech support is very helpful. In just a few minutes you can be recording most computer activity for later retrieval and review.

One of the features I particularly like about this software is the option to create a pop-up notification each time a user logs on to the computer reminding them that monitor software is running. But, if you’re so inclined, it also has a stealth mode without the pop-up notice, and I do mean stealth. None of the traditional methods of detection or circumvention that I have ever used or know of work here. The software runs in the background with absolutely no noticeable drain on system performance. I tested it on a relatively slow machine which anything with high system load makes crawl. Couldn’t even tell it was there. Be that as it may, even if you choose not to take the “In your face” approach and run in stealth mode, tell them it’s there so there will be no surprises later on. It will build respect in the long run.

Among the events it is able to record are screen shots in four color depths (B&W, 16 color, 256 color and 64k color). The benefit of fewer colors captured is smaller log file size. The down side of B&W is it sometimes misses colored text on colored backgrounds. It all becomes black. 16 color is usually more than adequate for capturing most events, 256 if you really need it and 64k color is just plain overkill. I don’t need to see the exact colors in a photo to know what the photo is depicting. You also have several choices for frequency of captures. I find once a minute is a good balance.

It can also record small image areas around mouse click events, urls of web sites visited, programs executed, standard and nonstandard keystrokes (i.e. backspace, ctrl, etc.). It all gets dumped sequentially into the log file. For faster review, images in the log files are displayed as thumbnails. Anything that looks suspicious or that you need to see more clearly can be clicked on which opens that image in another window at full size. It’s very thorough.

But, like anything else, there are things about this software I would like to see improved upon. Activity is recorded to one big master log file, encrypted and password protected. It would be impossible to view it all at once so what they do is to create individual pages. So far so good. The problem with large log files is, when you wish to view them, it takes a long time to compile them into a virtual booklet for you to page through. Once you start paging, there is no way to skip pages. The only option you have when paging is to go one at a time or jump to the end or beginning. This can be extremely cumbersome.

Another problem is the severely limited search capability. The previous problem would not be quite so bad if there was a way to jump to pages in the log file by searching the entire log file and jumping straight to it. As it is, the only search available is within the open page. Granted, one open page can be several screens high which has to be scrolled through but finding what one might want on only one page of information by scrolling is quite easy. Single page search is almost useless. What this software desperately needs is the ability to search the entire log file, AND the ability to jump to pages with the search criteria in them. If, during the course of several days worth of recording, several users log on and off but I only want to see the activity of one particular user, the only way to do so is to page one at a time and search each page for the log-on of that user. It’s just not practical.

Fortunately, I have earned the respect of software developers who take my opinions seriously. Hopefully we will see these much needed features in new releases and upgrades very shortly. Right now, the best way around these shortcomings is to review the log files daily during random check periods, delete and start new each day. You probably won’t need to run it continuously anyway. Random checks will probably more than do. Smaller log files are not so bad to page through and the information it captures might prove to be very valuable in keeping junior in line.

So what happens if you must lay down the law because junior refuses to obey your wishes but you still want him to be able to do research, type and print reports, etc.? That’s when you need Keyboard Control. With this software you can absolutely prohibit any user from engaging in any activity you deem inappropriate. Again; your home, your computer, your rules, end of discussion. Next month we’ll take a much closer look at Keyboard Control.

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