Building a safe browser and computer for children or relatives

VMWare PlayerSo you’ve got a kid, or you’ve got kids coming over and you’d like to let them at a Windows computer/browser but you don’t want to come back to find 300 icons on your desktop, a virus and scamware-ridden computer, and 300 popups an hour telling you the FBI is on to you and you have to pay them a ransom check in Nigeria.

I’ll point out here this is not about protecting your child from what they can find on the internet, this is about protecting your computer from what a child does to it with what they find on the internet.

I’ll also preface this with if you think your rinky dink antivirus that you pay $30 a year for is going to keep your computer safe from what a kid can find, you’re deluding yourself. As an IT tech, the only thing I see infected is computers with antiviruses installed.

Building a safe browser and computer

VMWare is a company that makes a product that creates virtual machines. They have an application called VMWare Player, this will allow you to create another machine on your computer that’s essentially contained in a single file. The cool part about this is that the application is free from VMWare, and if the kids overrun the virtual machine you create you can simply restore it from backups.

There are other applications for the PC, and some for Mac as well (Parallels, Fusion), and some for Linux which I do not know the name of, but the basics are the same. Install virtual machine software, create a virtual computer for the kids, make a backup of that virtual computer for when they destroy it, and then run it in full screen and let them at it.

With VMWare at least, the virtual machine you create will exist in a directory containing 3 or 4 files. You can make a backup of this while the virtual machine is not running, or if you go for a pay solution, many of those allow you to take snapshots.

Whatever the case, you simply set up a virtual machine, install the OS of your choice on it, install any web blocking software you feel like, when the kiddo wants to play you run the machine, maximize it/run it in full screen, and let them go to town knowing that unless they’re really evil they’re not going to jump back to your desktop to destroy things.

On VMWare Workstation, which is a pay version of VMWare’s virtualization products, after you set things up you can even set it so any changes made to the hard drive disappear when the virtual machine is shut down. Kid installs 75 viruses? Shut it down, power it up, never happened. I’m not sure if Player functions like that or not, but it’s something to consider. VMWare Workstation also allows for timed snapshots, so you can revert to what it was like based on a snapshot schedule you choose.

Child can install and play to their heart’s content and you’ll know that by clicking a button you get your sane computer setup right back with no changes.

Want the kid to run Mac OSX on the Windows machine, it’s doable. Linux? Not a problem. Want to create a tech baby themed wordpress site running Ubuntu linux underneath a Windows 7 host… I’ve heard of people who have done that.

Basically, if you want a browser and a computer that you don’t have to deal with on the back end after a child or relatives looking for stuff they shouldn’t be looking for hit it, virtualization is the way to go. That and Chrome browser.