ContentBarrier X4 review

The web offers all kinds of content at your fingertips. That can be a problem if you’re in an environment where you need to monitor or restrict internet access – if you’re in a home with kids, or a business where you want to cut down on non-work-related browsing. With ContentBarrier X4, you can set up user restrictions for internet access, block websites, limit instant messaging, and maintain activity logs to get an idea of what people are doing.

When installed, ContentBarrier is active for every user account on a single Mac (it works alongside Mac OS X 10.5’s Parental Controls). An administrator must log in with the appropriate user name and password to configure the program’s settings, which prevents standard user accounts from accessing the software.

IM and email filters

In addition to website filtering, ContentBarrier has filters for instant messaging (IM) and email. The IM and email filters are different from the Mail & iChat Parental Controls in OS X 10.5. Parental Controls lets you maintain a list of approved addresses, which ContentBarrier does not do but ContentBarrier doesn’t disable Parental Control’s list.

The IM filters work only with text chats. We were able to use the IM filters with iChat, Adium, and AIM. Intego says that the IM filters work by blocking the IM protocol itself, so it will work with all the major chat clients. The IM filters didn’t work with Facebook’s chat because Facebook uses a different protocol. ContentBarrier lets you block IM completely, or you can activate what’s called an Anti-Predator filter, which checks incoming messages for phrases that might be deemed inappropriate, such as ‘don’t tell mum’ or ‘what are you wearing’. If an incoming IM triggers ContentBarrier an alert appears, the message is blocked, and, in a somewhat disconcerting manner, your IM client is kicked off the internet and then logged back on. You can add more phrases to the list, or delete preset phrases, so normal conversations – kids discussing what they’re wearing to a party, for example – won’t be interrupted.

ContentBarrier lets you block email altogether, or filter email by keyword category, a feature similar to its website keyword category filtering. When you have it set to block all emails, you can launch your email program, but ContentBarrier will block any incoming messages. ContentBarrier doesn’t bounce the email back to the sender; instead, it leaves the message on the incoming server, where it can be retrieved when the block is lifted. The email blocks worked with a personal POP email account, and Intego says this feature also works with IMAP (but not IMAP over Secure Sockets Layer), and SMTP email.

Setting limits

Another major feature that ContentBarrier has, and Leopard’s Parental Controls doesn’t, is the ability to block streaming media. When a web page with embedded media is loaded, an alert displays, and you can’t play the media. It can be helpful to block just a stream instead of an entire website; for instance, you may want to allow access to a website, but prevent users from clogging up network bandwidth with streaming media from that site. ContentBarrier can also block media streaming from iTunes.

The Schedule feature is similar to Parental Controls’ Time Limits, where you can set time zones and limits for computer access but ContentBarrier offers more flexibility by allowing you to set a schedule by the hour. For example, you can set multiple time zones of access and no access within a single day. Our only problem with this feature was that sometimes ContentBarrier crashed when we tried to modify a schedule. Intego says this is a known issue and a fix is in the works.

Like Parental Controls, ContentBarrier keeps logs so you can track what’s been accessed and blocked. Unlike Parental Controls, ContentBarrier can send you log reports via email.As far as ContentBarrier affecting performance, we didn’t notice any slowdowns.

A final consideration is the annual cost. The software comes with only a year’s worth of filter updates. You then have to pay a subscription fee in order to update the filters. It’s £19 to renew for one year or £29 for a two-year renewal. If you decide not to renew, ContentBarrier will continue to work, but filters can’t be updated.

OUR VERDICT

For many people, Leopard’s Parental Controls offer enough filters and tools for blocking and restricting internet access. However, ContentBarrier X4 offers several valuable tools that Parental Controls lacks, such as hour-by-hour scheduling, an IM anti-predator filter, media stream blocking, and keyword filtering. If you have a hard time maintaining Parental Controls, or if you have a small business where you want to cut down on non-work-related surfing, ContentBarrier X4 can be a big help.

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