Codework BrowseControl 2 review
Simple web controls make for a cheap alternative for SMBs that don't need costly full content-filtering solutions
Review Date: 21 Jul 2006
Reviewed By: Dave Mitchell
Price when reviewed: 10 workstations, £140 exc VAT; Upgrade: Included in annual maintenance - 20% of cost
There are currently two main options on the market for controlling internet access in the workplace: content filtering and URL filtering. The two are often confused as being the same, however the main differences are that the former is more powerful and versatile but costs a lot, while the latter is more basic but won't break the bank.
Codework's BrowseControl takes the latter path, as it's based around URL filtering, where you simply create a blacklist of website addresses and domains you don't want visited. However, it adds a lot more to the pot, since it also provides application usage controls, allowing you to manage, for example, email and FTP access and also file downloading over HTTP.
BrowseControl requires a central server to manage internet access, while each PC needs a small client deployed to it. Installing the server only takes a few minutes, and BrowseControl automatically loads a copy of the Firebird open-source database server, which can be accessed remotely from another system running the console component. No deployment tools are provided for the client, but this is supplied as an MSI file, which, for smaller networks, can be accessed easily from a shared directory.
The main console interface is undeniably basic, but this makes BrowseControl very intuitive. As each client is deployed and comes online, it appears in the main window along with its system name, IP address and current internet status, which includes the latest connection time. Clients can be managed easily by placing them in groups, to which you can assign different access controls in a hierarchical fashion.
Basic web access is controlled using combinations of black and white URL lists, although the former can be tedious to set up, as you need to enter each one manually. White lists let you impose a more Draconian regime, since employing these allows users to visit only those sites that are listed. Access periods can be scheduled on a daily, weekly and monthly basis, but these may be applied only to groups and not individuals. Alternatively, you can use a timer to switch internet access on and off for any user or group, or lock down access to anyone with a single press of a button.
Help desk tools are also on offer, as you can select a system or group and shut them off and restart them. Access to the floppy and CD-ROM drives may be disallowed, and you can also lock down the screen, mouse and keyboard of selected systems or entire groups.
Reporting is conspicuous by its absence, but this is simply because Codework wants you to purchase its separate BrowseReport utility, which costs the same as BrowseControl. We found application blocking just as easy to set up as web access, although you can only create black lists. Usefully, it only works with the program's original filename, which means it will block a program using its Windows internal name, so changing the executable filename won't make any difference. User notifications extend to sending them a customisable message, or you can switch these off and use silent access controls.
The additional reporting facilities will double the price. But smaller companies and academia that want simple web access and application controls will find BrowseControl offers a good range of tools and is particularly easy to deploy and manage.
Author: Dave Mitchell
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