The SearchHelp Sentry Remote parental-control software offers practical tools for monitoring computer usage - but it can be aggressive.

For parents worried about the internet's potential to expose children to sexual predators and inappropriate content, tools such as Sentry Remote - parental-control monitoring software that watches kids' activities and communication on the computer - can provide some peace of mind.

SearchHelp's Sentry Remote - like SpectorSoft's eBlaster 6.0 (beta) - and offers stealthy surveillance tools capable of logging every keystroke typed, every email sent, every application used, every website opened, and every line transmitted in an instant-messaging exchange. And Sentry Remote boasts a superior web-based monitoring interface and support for mobile phone notifications.

One important point: SearchHelp Sentry Remote is a monitoring program only and does not prevent children from reaching websites in sensitive categories (sex, drugs, hate, and others). For that kind of protection, you'll need content-filtering software, which is available in some security suites as well as in other parental-control packages.

SearchHelp Sentry Remote ($39 - around £20 - for two computers) offers the ability to alert children to the presence of the monitoring software. The "visible mode" setting, on by default, puts an icon for the password-protected application in the system tray near the clock. Kids can see that the application is there and running, but they can't access it without your password.

Also available is the stealth mode, which hides SearchHelp Sentry Remote, even from the Add or Remove Programs menu, so that children can't uninstall it while you're gone.

SearchHelp Sentry Remote is an aggressive tool that gives the parent live control of the machine from a remote location. Once the program is installed, its easy-to-use (though jarringly bright red) interface lets you set limits on what a child can do.

With a few mouse clicks, you can remotely tweak the settings to prevent a child from disabling programs, lock or shut down the computer, close an IM window when a predetermined violation occurs, or have a mobile phone text message sent if a violation does arise.

You can also preprogram SearchHelp Sentry Remote to send an email report with its surveillance data, which can include sites visited, keystrokes logged, email messages sent, applications used, and more. (By default, the program will send the report once every three days.)

It's nice to see all of the reporting options in the settings tab unchecked by default, forcing parents to make conscious decisions about how much activity they want to monitor. For more on parental controls and other PC security functions, visit our Security Advisor website.

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SearchHelp Sentry Remote's web interface lets parents log in to the SearchHelp website, tie an account to a monitored PC, and obtain some aggressive remote-watchdog tools. The Remote TV option, which opens a Java applet, is the equivalent of standing behind the child, looking live at the computer screen.

During our tests, SearchHelp Sentry Remote worked flawlessly within both Internet Explorer and Firefox to give a view of the monitored computer.

From SearchHelp Sentry Remote's web interface, you can also sort through conversation logs and online chats, check browser URL history, or intervene and take action in real time to hide or show the Start button, hide or show the Desktop, hide or show the taskbar, open or close browser windows, shut down an IM program, or even lock or unlock the computer. Through a nifty text-chat feature, you can send messages to the child in real time. For more on parental controls and other PC security functions, visit our Security Advisor website.

SearchHelp Sentry Remote: Specs

  • PC with Windows 2000, XP, Vista
  • 128MB RAM
  • internet connection
  • PC with Windows 2000, XP, Vista
  • 128MB RAM
  • internet connection

OUR VERDICT

Sentry Remote's web interface - and reasonable price - make it the best parental control software we've seen. And its password-protected "visible mode" is appealing for parents who need monitoring software but are wary of invading their children's privacy.

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