Have you ever checked your personal e-mail at work, instant messaged friends on company time, or searched for a new job online under your boss's nose? If so, you might be delighted to discover Vanishd.com, unless the thrill associated with the risk of getting caught is about the only thing breaking the daily monotony of work and keeping you sane.
Vanishd lets you surf the Internet in private despite prying eyes, and it's all web-based. Registration is free, but you might want to try the interactive demo first. Extra features are also available for a subscription fee.
Now You See It, Now You Don't
With Vanishd, the web page that you're surfing is covered by another web page and can only be seen through a kind of peephole (the "viewing window"), which you can move around and resize. The site also offers Word, Excel and PowerPoint cover pages in case a simple web page won't do.
When you move your mouse off the screen or right-click, the viewing window will instantly vanish as it becomes hidden behind the cover page. If you click on the logo at the top-left corner of the cover page, your viewing window will reappear. Click anywhere within the viewing window and you can start surfing.
Technical Details and Limitations
The site currently supports Internet Explorer, Firefox 2 and Safari, and Vanishd engineers are experimenting with Firefox 3. Some websites like Gmail and Yahoo Mail don't seem to like being hidden, but they're working on that.
The websites that you visit will also show up in your browser history, cache and cookies, and if network blockers are set up in your workplace, you won't be able to surf sites that have been blocked. Apparently, they're working on these issues as well.
Personally, I found it a little frustrating to control the viewing window, which kept disappearing on me, though it's hopefully nothing that experience and more frequent use won't fix. Fortunately, there's a lock function that keeps the window from being hidden.
Right now, the site offers two services for a fee: password protection and stealth mode. These are accessible by clicking on the star icon on the toolbar.
Password protection prevents the viewing window from being accessed by snooping coworkers, friends or family members. With stealth mode, the logo on the top-left corner is replaced with a small arrow icon that displays only when you roll your mouse over that spot. Pretty clever. That's one more way to stay a step ahead of a nosy boss.
Vanishd is currently working on some new features that should be available soon. These include a proxy version to get around network blockers, browser plug-in for extra features and website support, and publisher solutions to enable website owners to offer the service from their site.
Looks like the people behind Vanishd are covering all bases. Wonder what else they've got up their sleeves to help office workers everywhere surf stress-free, while maintaining an illusion of productivity.