SAN MATEO (05/23/2000) - Giving users access to the Internet is a hot topic within corporate and government circles. High on the list of concerns are reduced productivity and the risk of litigation via exposure to objectionable materials. But given the Web's value as both a research tool and an extension of a business to its customers, denying access to it is an untenable position.
If you need to limit your users' Web access, consider WebWasher from webwasher.com AG.
When installed on a PC or as a proxy server on a network, WebWasher filters advertisements and restricts access to Web sites. It severs HTTP connections to ads at the host level, so sites' bandwidth-gobbling animations, applets, scripts, and pop-up windows won't degrade your network's performance.
More importantly, WebWasher reduces the potential for liability because it prevents offensive materials from being brought into the office via the company's Internet connections. Also, it maintains employees' productivity by denying them access to shopping sites.
WebWasher's effectiveness, ease of use, and flexible filtering options, all of which differentiate it from competitors such as Adsubtract and Symantec Norton 2000, earned it a score of Very Good.
I downloaded Version 2.1 from webwasher.com and was very impressed with it. The installation was painless, and configuring it to filter ads and block users' access to specific sites was a snap.
Removing ads from Web pages has many benefits. Employees who respond to ads are not productive while they're perusing ad-related material. Worse, ads consume valuable bandwidth and can degrade your network's performance. It's difficult to measure bandwidth performance in absolute terms, but WebWasher tallies the number of images and objects it filters. Finally, for end-users, cleaner sites can be read more quickly and easily.
WebWasher's greatest strength is the latitude that it gives you to determine how objects are filtered. It has five filtering mechanisms: a dimension filter, a URL filter, a pop-up window filter, a script filter, and an animation filter.
The dimension filter traps ads that fit any of 53 prespecified dimensions.
Administrators can activate or deactivate each one and can specify new dimensions. For added control, you can also specify whether images, applets, or plug-ins should be filtered.
I was very impressed by the URL filter, which let me selectively filter as many as nine objects, including frames, windows, scripts, and Flash animations, from specified URLs. WebWasher also let me block access to specific URLs, which is part of the access control option. It can also grant access only to specified sites, blocking access to all others.
WebWasher's pop-up window filter can be activated or deactivated by the administrator. However, pop-up windows are not used exclusively for ads, so users may miss valuable information if this is active. The company should add intelligence to this function, such as checking whether the window content originated at an advertising site such as DoubleClick.
If the scripts filter is active, you can specify whether to filter scripts executed when a Web page opens, when it closes, or at both times. Similar to the scripts filter, the animation filter features additional options when active. For example, users can view only the first picture of an animation.
If you use WebWasher on a network, you will be very pleased with it, save for one point: WebWasher's filtering criteria apply to every user on the network.
You cannot establish groups of users whose filtering needs differ. Also, I would like to see a filter for instant messages, which can disrupt users even more than advertisements do.
WebWasher is a very good product with a place in many organizations. By reducing bandwidth usage, increasing productivity, and keeping objectionable material out of the workplace, it offers significant value to any enterprise that requires access to the Web.
Scott Steinacher (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a programmer and technology consultant based in New York.
THE BOTTOM LINE: VERY GOOD
Business Case: By filtering advertisements and limiting access to Web sites, this Web content filtering tool boosts employees' productivity and safeguards the company from exposure to potentially objectionable material.
Technology Case: WebWasher severs the HTTP connection to ads at their host servers, so ad images aren't transmitted to corporate networks. This can reduce bandwidth usage by as much as 30 percent, while making sites uncluttered and easier to read.
+ Powerful, flexible filtering technology+ Extremely easy to install and use+ Competitively pricedCons:
- Does not let system administrators create multiple user groupsCost: Free for educational institutions; $29 per business user; volume pricing is availablePlatform(s): Windows 98/95/2000, Windows NT 4.0; Netscape, Microsoft Web browserswebwasher.com AG, Freehold, N.J.; (732) 409-5009; www.webwasher.com.