Tech Industry

Browser aimed at children

The Surf Monkey customized browser, now in beta, is designed for children 8 to 12, and runs only on Internet Explorer 4.

Bandai Digital Entertainment and Medialive are planning to launch a browser in April that is designed for 8- to 12-year-olds to surf the Web, another attempt to tap the burgeoning children's online market--this time using Microsoft technology.

The "Surf Monkey" browser is free, but it costs $30 per year for a membership that includes software upgrades and other enhancements, as well as parental control software. The product is now in beta.

Surf Monkey works with any Internet service provider, but only runs on the Internet Explorer 4.0 browser, according to its Web site. "This means you need a Windows PC with 32 MB RAM and multimedia capabilities," according to "system requirements" listed on the site.

Children launch onto the Net via a Surf Monkey home page, which includes links to children-only sites and pages that are hosted by Surf Monkey. It also lets children chat and send email through a Surf Monkey account.

Surf Monkey uses other Microsoft technology, including Active X and C++. According to Bandai, it is designed "initially" for the Microsoft platform.

The online children's market is getting crowded with players that include Disney, Viacom, and PBS. All are trying to tap into one of the Net's fastest-growing markets. According to a study by Find/SVP, 14 percent of children and teenagers in the United States already log onto the Internet.

The recent call by regulators to create software that protects children from accessing adult-rated material on the Net has created additional marketing opportunities as well.

Surf Monkey will be distributed in stores, online, and in bundling deals with Internet service providers, according to Medialive chief executive David Smith. "ISPs see it as a way to compete with America Online," Smith said. Bandai owns a stake in Medialive, he said.

He said Microsoft's IE 4.0 and Windows were chosen because of the multimedia technology features they offer, despite Netscape Communications' continued dominance in the browser market and Apple Computer's popularity in the education market.