The Internet is a scary virtual world for parents. Letting your children loose on the Internet is like sending them out on the street without a chaperone. Internet filters may protect them from stumbling upon the most offensive websites, but they do nothing to guide them to educational or kid-safe fun sites. That is up to you, and KidZui is a tool that aims to help you make that process easier.
What is KidZui?
KidZui is a web browser that comes loaded with kid-friendly content. As it serves a general population, KidZui is not age-specific but rather includes graphical links to a variety of games, videos, and websites for kids of all ages.
There are currently two versions of KidZui: KidZui Classic, which requires the creation of user accounts, and KidZui 2, which does not require a login and has a new interface design. In both cases, users are required to download and install the software.
The software itself is available as a stand-alone browser for Windows or Mac OS X. In addition Linux and other users may use the Firefox add-on to get the same interface. When downloading, the website attempts to auto-detect which operating system and browser you are using and then serves you the appropriate download link. I tested KidZui on my Linux desktop and on Windows running inside VirtualBox.
As would be expected of a browser for kids, Kidzui is very colorful and has large puffy blue buttons. Each button along the top of the screen has an icon next to its description, which may help children who cannot yet read.
On my 2.6Ghz machine, the animations and mouseover effects are snappy and responsive. On slower machines, it lags a little, but not enough to be unusable. The real lag starts when loading flash games and videos. This, of course, is not something the Kidzui makers can control, and the new 3D graphics accelerated Flash plugin may reduce some of those problems for users with supported video cards.
By design, the interface takes over the entire screen, and the only way to get out of it is to close it or “Alt+Tab” to another window. For the most part, this works well for kids, who will most likely not be multitasking until they are older. On my dual-screen setup, it actually covered my second screen with a grey window, preventing me from using it. Again, this is undoubtedly by design. If, for example, you had this interface up on a kids’ machine and did not want them in other programs, the fullscreen setup would keep their focus only on KidZui.
The ultimate way for me to put KidZui to the test was to sit my 7-year-old daughter down in front of it. She loved it from the moment she saw it and has no trouble navigating the menus or finding the content she wanted. Because KidZui depends on third-party websites for content, some sites performed better than others on her slower machine, but there were not a lot of dead links or accidentally linked inappropriate content.
Like a normal browser, KidZui includes a search box, back and forward buttons, favorites/bookmarks, and a browser history. Parents can also create logins for themselves to enable extra features such as the ability to receive weekly activity reports, set age and gender relevant content, launch KidZui on startup, and require a password in order to exit the browser.
KidZui includes a great number of games, far more than I had time to play before writing this review (though I certainly was tempted to play all day). The content covers a wide variety, from sports to fashion and includes movies, music videos, television shows, and websites with multiple activities.
Without the parent login, the content is not age-specific, although there is generally nothing that would be particularly alarming to most parents of younger children. As with any website or software, however, it is ultimately up to the parent to decide what is appropriate. The music video section, for example, may include artists that some parents do not consider to be good role models. If they are concerned, they should use their own discretion to decide and make use of the parent login to control content.
KidZui does include some advertisements that are clearly marked with the word “Ad”, not that marking them would stop kids from clicking. But overall, the ads are not intrusive or annoyingly prevalent.
My children enjoy KidZui and love the content it provides. They no longer have to ask every time they want to go to a site they like, because most of them are already linked within the browser. To expand their reach, the developers should port the Firefox extension to Google Chrome and possibly make apps for other devices. The only real downside is the heavy requirement of Flash player, which will not change until content providers find suitable alternatives.
KidZui is fun for all school-aged kids, and I recommend it for parents who are looking for fun and safe online experiences for their children.
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