For today's review, I'm going to shift gears from purely business-centric apps and take a look at one that focuses on our youth. Letting kids have full-range access to the family PC might not be a great idea. Don't believe me? Ask Helen LoveJoy, the Reverend LoveJoy's wife from The Simpsons TV show who famously said, "Won't someone please think of the children?"
When I was a little rascal back in the early to mid-90s, my parents locked the lone Windows 3.1-powered family computer down with Edmark KidDesk software. Suffice to say, it did a decent job keeping my mitts off sensitive parts of the operating system. With those days long since passed and KidDesk relegated to the dustbin of history, it might behoove parents to know what sort of software can accomplish a similar task for their family PC in the 21st Century.
Peanut Butter PC by Peanut Butter Software sets out to fill this void with a product designed to deliver a secure, parent-sanctioned desktop for kids. I found this application to be surprisingly robust and highly configurable. You can generate special user accounts tailored for each child, limit access to certain websites and applications using a whitelist, disable the use of external drives and media, and catalog media files like music, video and pictures for kids. Peanut Butter PC also offers the ability to auto-run whenever the computer is powered up and logged in, or the parent can leave that option off if he or she prefers to start the kiddie environment manually.
Of course, as a reviewer, I have to play the part of a kid trying to break the system. I tried the usual suspects for getting around safeguards, such as attempting to open Task Manager and kill the user process, opening an application via an Open file dialog using common programs like WordPad, and more. Unfortunately, unless you are extremely careful with what programs you allow, anyone enterprising enough can defeat Peanut Butter PC's security by allowing complete access to the file system. Therefore, it is important to configure the Windows user account in such a way that permissions are not granted to folders not specifically created or belonging to the user. Keep in mind though that this could take considerable time to do.
Another glaring flaw I noticed is that some apps could ignore the protective sandbox measures and allow access to the wider desktop. This is especially true if you use a modified installation of Windows with user interface patches. A notable example of this would be the Classic Start Menu mod for Windows 8. Despite launching the Peanut Butter PC and letting the software take over the desktop, the hacked Start Button still manages to appear on the screen, allowing youngsters access to programs they might not be allowed to use.
In summary, although Peanut Butter PC as a product offers a good idea for making the computer safe for kids, some youngsters with more crafty hacking smarts could get around the confines of the custom desktop and back into the cruel, unprotected world of regular Windows. Although this application serves as a decent roadblock for some that aren't familiar with computers, it cannot be considered a replacement to parental supervision. It is always important to monitor your child's usage of the machine, just in case someone does end up finding a way around the fence. At the price of $24.95, it might be worth considering after you give the software a test run via Peanut Butter PC's 15-day trial.
An avid technology writer and an IT guru, Matthew is here to help bring the best in software, hardware and the web to the collective consciousness of TechRepublic's readership. In addition to writing for TechRepublic, Matthew currently works as a Customer Success Professional for Ultimate Software in Santa Ana, California.