Microsoft is offering a public beta version of its upcoming Windows Live OneCare Family Safety, a free Web service that Microsoft says can help keep children safe from undesirable online content. The current beta version of the product features Web-content filtering and activity reports.

Alan Packer, product unit manager for Family Safety and Reputation Services at Microsoft, told me in a recent briefing that OneCare Family Safety is just one of the ways Microsoft will support its various free OneCare Live services. The company first used the OneCare brand for its subscription-based PC health and safety product, but now says it will extend the brand to related products and services.

OneCare Family Safety arose specifically to meet customer demand. According to Packer, customers expect Microsoft to do more to keep children and teens safe online, especially if they're using the company's Web services. The current beta tackles the most pressing need by providing a Web filter that lets parents ensure that their children are seeing only age-appropriate online content. Parents also want to monitor who their children are interacting with, so Microsoft will add contact management to an upcoming beta of OneCare Family Safety.

Interestingly, Microsoft has discovered that these controls aren't popular just with parents who want to protect their children. Many adults want to be able to filter their own content and apply the controls to their own Web experiences. Additionally, Packer said that because previous attempts at supplying this functionality was too intrusive, OneCare Family Safety was designed to be as simple and unobtrusive as possible.

OneCare Family Safety will be a free Web service available in more than 35 markets, though the initial beta is available only in the United States. (Expect international support to come in September.) The service can filter any Windows application that uses the HTTP protocol, and Microsoft is working with the American Academy of Pediatrics and similar entities worldwide to come up with age-based default filtering recommendations.

Although OneCare Family Safety is a Web service, users will need to download a bit of code to each client computer that will access the service. Users hoping to access OneCare Family Safety will also need to establish a Windows Live ID (formerly called a Microsoft Passport account) for each family member who will access the service.

You can learn more about the OneCare Family Safety Beta at the URL below.
      https://fss.live.com