David Szpunar: Owner, Servant 42 and Servant Voice

David's Church Information Technology

May 12th, 2007 at 11:34 pm

Initially Evaluating SmoothWall Guardian for Content Filtering

We just released our Free Wi-Fi without much hurrah this week(end) (I’m out of town, so I hope no one needs help!). The big test will be Monday and Tuesday (when I will be in town) with us hosting our Indiana District Council.

Right now, content filtering on the public wireless is being provided by ScrubIT, a free DNS-based filtering service. Not bad but not as much control or information as I want; it’s a temporary solution (and I haven’t been given an account at ScrubIT yet, so I have no control at all). Matthew Irvine has a couple of excellent posts on his new blog, techlesia, talking about the open source SmoothWall Express firewall and DansGuardian content filter. I have a bit of Linux experience, dabbling at best, but not anything extensive enough for me to set up DansGuardian on a production machine, although I might play with it virtually (SmoothWall Express, if we needed a firewall, might be an option since it is plug-and-play, but we already have ISA 2004). The company SmoothWall has a commercial version of both products, with the content filter called Corporate Guardian, and from the preliminary pricing I’ve found it appears to be much, much less expensive than most of the commercial filtering boxes I’ve researched so far, which translates into “actually affordable.”

I think the Corporate Guardian looks the most promising, since they turn DansGuardian into a commercially-supported product, with the main benefit being that it’s plug-and-play, in addition to blacklist and updates subscriptions. Everyone wins. However, their evaluation terms concern me a bit. The terms state, in part, “You may not communicate the results of your evaluation with other companies, organizations or persons not employed by your company or organization, unless this has been agreed in writing beforehand with SmoothWall.” They also state that after the evaluation, you will “Not make public any notes, analyses, computations, studies or other documents prepared as part of this evaluation unless this has been agreed in writing beforehand with SmoothWall.”

Why does this concern me? Well, I want to share my findings with you on this blog, and these terms say I have to get their permission first. This seems to run counter to the company’s open source products philosophy, and makes me think they are scared of how their product compares to other similar products if someone were to write a review on their blog, for instance. Sure, I could ask for permission to write a review, but if it’s not positive, why would they let me post it? They can do what they want, but I’m not very happy with these particular terms and I’m seriously debating whether or not it’s worth giving up my ability to comment on my findings in order to evaluate the software beyond the claims they make on their website. Is anyone else using SmoothWall’s commercial products, and if so, are you limited in your ability to comment on your company’s use of the products similar to the terms of the evaluation terms, or does that clause go away after you’ve made the purchase?

Thanks Matthew for getting me started on this particular content filter! If I can get past the terms above I’m willing to give it a shot and maybe save some serious money in the process. Or I may find that the open source versions are functional enough and easy enough to set up for my needs; now I just have to find the time to test it.

  • 1

    They’ve always seemed a little off to me. They push users to the commercial versions, which makes sense, but rely heavily on open source users to provide improvements for the commercial versions. That licensing language concerns me a bit too. Still, I’ve been ultimately pleased with the performance of their free software.

    Thanks for the props!

    Matthew Irvine on May 13th, 2007
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    Matthew, please don’t post FUD like that. It’s completely wrong and how could you possibly know? It is extremely rare for open source users to contribute anything other than testing and requests. 99.9 (if not 100)% of improvements for the commercial version over the Express version come from full time programmers working for SmoothWall. The same sort of thing goes for DansGuardian. Don’t get me wrong that the testing is not good. The testing that Open Source users give is invaluable. They just don’t tend to provide code. There are a few rare exceptions of course.

    What do you mean about “seemed a little off to me”?

    With regards comments on the evaluation agreement – don’t assume anything sinister. It’s just a bog standard agreement and there are people at SmoothWall who would be happy to discuss it and listen to suggestions.

    Daniel Barron on May 30th, 2007
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    Open source often relies on public contributors; I know people that contribute freely to several projects, including Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird. The quantity of users makes a difference, as does the type of software and the programming language, etc. I’m sure it’s different for every project. I would expect Daniel has a better knowledge of DansGuardian’s specifici contributors than most :-)

    I do intend to talk to SmoothWall; my time is unfortunately spread thin enough right now that I’ve only been able to work on content filtering research in spurts. My only experience with the company directly has been reading their website. I did just receive an email from someone working for them who had read this article (as I was reading this thread in fact–the irony! :-) so perhaps I’ll be talking to them sooner rather than later.

    David Szpunar on May 30th, 2007