A comparison of browsers from a parental perspective

I’m a big fan of Windows 10 under certain conditions. I’ve just deployed it in our corporate environment on over 14000 machines in 55 countries. I have big designs on implementing Azure AD and EMS in the coming months, but this post it about it, and more specifically browsers running within it from a parental perspective.

I remain platform agnostic personally, and I have several different OS running in my house across a wide variety of devices. However I’m a huge Lenovo fan and my whole family runs X or T series machines (often second hand ones from ebay, to ensure that they are 220 or 420 etc and have the nice form factor and quality keyboard and are maintainable by me – but I digress) and so all of these machines now run Windows 10. I’m not going to get into a debate about auto upgrades and all that Jazz either, I ran Windows 7 for many years, I worked at Microsoft when Vista was pretending to be a decent OS (still painful memories) and I completely avoided W8. But I went all in on 10 at home, and all in all everyone’s fairly happy. The offer of free licencing was good enough for me, and I was happy to dogfood the OS before rolling it out at work as well. But then we come to parental control……

One of the main reason that I upgraded my daughters PC to W10 was to get the full Microsoft Family features, link it into my main MS account, and be able to see in detail what she was up to. In doing so MS encourage you heavily to use Edge. Unfortunately my experiences over this period have not been good. My daughter had a fairly common usage pattern, based around youtube in a browser, minecraft as a local install, and a few other browser based activities, mostly games. In simple terms the Microsoft Family reporting about this just simply doesn’t work. I’ve been through all the troubleshooters, I’ve reset and cleared all the caches and I’ve done a bit of private digging beyond that around file access and internals, but it just simply doesn’t work. The reports that turn up each week of activity are less than useless. It seems unable to even pick up Minecraft as a process (let alone other processes) and the browser reporting is even worse than that. I could be forgiving (although not that much) if there was some difficulty in picking up browser based activities with the amount of scripting going on, but not being able to record a simple process and the executable time seems beyond belief! Which brings me to scripting……

As a natural geek, and a volunteer teacher of programming to children through the Code Club charity, I’m often to be found using browser based development environments such as scratch and today I was testing the new BBC Microbit site as that’s what I plan to be teaching next term. Obviously all of these sites are quite complex JS sites with drag and drop UIs aimed at children. I’m afraid to say that Edge has let me down on continued occasions in this area as well, despite giving it fair chance on very mainstream sites over the past few months. Today I was testing MicroBit and it just wasn’t up to it, hangs, crashes, blank screens, it was driving myself and my daughter mad. So we switched back to chrome……

I’m a chrome user personally at work and at home, but I’d been prepared to give it up for the offer of all in control that Edge and Windows 10 offered. However 2 hours after switching back, I’ve got a full run down of every site and every correct time that my daughter has browsed for, and the JS IDEs are simply just working. I’ve got her running at a supervised user through my main google account, and all the information I need is accurate and simply accessible. Yes I have no monitoring of the minecraft process but I’ll have to live with that. Playing minecraft locally is still a lot less scary that the open web anyway for a parent of relatively young children, as there’s no online option. I’ll continue to monitor and see how things develop, but I’m afraid to say that I’m seriously disappointed with the Windows 10 and Edge offering, when MS had a good opportunity to make a serious statement in this space. It simply doesn’t work yet.

The next step – well maybe a Koala router in the long term so I can control traffic at the point of entry into the house. In the meantime I’ll be relying on chrome for reports of what’s going on.