Saturday, April 14, 2007

Dismayed with Disney's PTO Preschool Time Online

WARNING: Disney's Preschool Time Online (hereafter "PTO") is VERY frustrating to install properly on a Windows XP computer where your child will not have Administrator priviledges.

I gave my child her own WinXP login account. For security reasons - hers and that of my overall computer, she is neither a member of the Local Administrators Group nor the Power Users Group. Frankly, what parent would knowingly allow their child to log in with greater authority on any pc? To do otherwise would put the entire pc at great risk for viruses, spyware and rootkit infestation.

Installing PTO:
I installed Disney's PTO program, while logged in as the Admin, and it loaded itself into the c:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Application Data\ folder area, as well as into c:\program files\disney\. You would think that "All Users" meant that all users would have the ability to run it; a wrong assumption according to Disney's PTO support team which I will share later in this blog.

After the near hour of installing (yes, even over high-speed DSL), my child tried to run PTO. After completing the PTO login process at, the program died at a "DSPROBLEMS" page saying that ActiveX was required. I confirmed that ActiveX was indeed enabled, in addition to placing GO.COM into the Trusted Sites list within IE7. Despite all that, we were not prompted to install anything; a contradiction to the misleading instructions that PTO had on-screen at that moment.

I then changed her Windows login account to a Power User and tried accessing PTO once again. While that allowed IE7 to now prompt for their ActiveX (OCX file) to install, it gave us a new error saying that all or part of the PTO system needed to be uninstalled and then reinstalled!

I contacted Disney, using the link I found one one of the initial login pages, and this is the response I received (a must-read for all parents considering to purchase Disney Preschool Time Online):

-----Original Message-----
From: Playhouse Disney Preschool Time Online
Sent: Saturday, April 14, 2007
Subject: Re: Playhouse Disney Preschool Time ... Technical Problems

Thank you for your recent message.

We apologize for any confusion. Unfortunately, due to restrictions placed on non-administrator accounts within Windows XP, we are unable to support download of Preschool Time Online on non-administrator accounts.

Because of this, Preschool Time Online is designed to launch in a fully secure pop-up window. To enable the Parental Lock feature that requires a password to exit the game, please visit the 'Preferences' menu, by clicking the 'X' in the upper right corner, within the game.

Playhouse Disney Preschool Time Online Member Services


Other Flaws:
1. It would seem that one can only log into the Preschool Time Online (PTO) area as the PTO account holder / parent and not as the child, even though it lets you create a separate account for up to 5 children. That means you, the parent, must be present every time your child wants to play PTO. There is an option to have PTO remember the password but that will cease to work after you clear your browser cache / cookies. Moreover, PTO does allow you to optionally "lock your child in" the application, but (1) it isn't something clearly communicated to the parent and (2) it's a cop-out to providing a proper resolve.

2. Several of the links in the Account Management area do not offer a "back" button, despite prompting you with "Are you sure you don't want to..." yet never actually allowing you to say "YES, I'M SURE I don't want to..."

The Account Management page I am referencing is:

For example, clicking “Add New Account” is a dead-end if you change your mind. You will be forced to refresh the browser and then log back in again!

I think it's a disgrace to see such poor workmanship, one that lacks a user-friendly interface, for such an enterprise as Disney. Clearly Disney has the funds to offer better online services. Parents who are considering joining Disney's PTO should be aware of these shortfalls and lack of clearly worded disclaimers, especially since Disney "forgot" to mention them to the unsuspecting parent prior to purchase and/or installation.

I am very dismayed to say the least. It doesn't appear that enough consideration for the security of the child or parent (owner) went into this product. Otherwise, it would not have been designed to suggest or allow a child to be an administrator of the pc. That suggestion is simply preposterous, since it grants total and complete authority to the child in every aspect of the word and their online experience.

Feedback Welcome:
Does anyone else have a similar experience with this or any other Disney online product?