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From the Actrix Online Informer March 2010

Speeding up your browser

by Rob Zorn and Evan Skibin

Even though most Internet users are enjoying speeds hardly dreamt of ten years ago, there are still times when browsing can be slow. There are lots of reasons for this including the number of servers your traffic is going through, the state of your phone line and more. It can be a little frustrating, especially if you're among the 5-10 percent of New Zealanders still connecting through dial-up modems.

There a couple of ways you can speed up your browser, especially if you're using Firefox or Opera. When these two browsers hit the market one of their most compelling competitive edges was that they were much faster than Microsoft's Internet Explorer due to their "stripped down" technology. Even though Internet Explorer has come along way in recent versions, users of alternative browsers will still probably tell you, rightly or wrongly, that speed is one of the reasons they prefer them.

With Firefox (www.getfirefox.com),  one of the ways you can gain a little speed is by installing some add-ons that will stop your browser wasting resources downloading things you don't want or need.

Add-ons (and there are literally thousands of them) are like extra features that don't come as standard with your browser but they can be installed. They're not always created by the browser maker.

Installing add-ons with Firefox is pretty easy. Just click Tools, and then click Add-ons in the menu that drops down. In the Add-ons box that comes up, type the name of the add-on you're looking for and click the little magnifying glass to search. Firefox will return a list of add-ons that match your search. Click the one you want and follow the installation instructions.

You can also browse and search add-ons at https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/

The first add-on that may help your browser speed is Adblock Plus (https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/1865).  It's advertising states: "Ever been annoyed by all those ads and banners on the internet that often take longer to download than everything else on the page? Install Adblock Plus now and get rid of them." And that's exactly what it does. Adblock Plus uses an automatically maintained list of the most obnoxious banner adverts on the net will auto-update itself regularly to block out the worst offenders. You can also right-click on a banner and choose "Adblock" from the context menu and that banner will never be downloaded again.

Another useful Firefox add-on is Flashblock: (https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/433).  Flash is a type of animation you often see in interactive and animated advertising and online videos. It can help make a web page nice and funky, but if you just want information and you don't care about how it looks, then you're better off without it. It can slow you down because your browser wastes time downloading the video content when it could be doing something else.

The frame of the Flash content remains in the page layout so you know it's there. However it is replaced with a "Play" button, so if you decide you would like to see the animation, it can be enabled with a single click.

The latest version of the Opera browser (version 10 available at www.opera.com) has another solution to the low speed problem. It comes with Turbo mode, which was designed primarily for people to use when they're out and about, connecting to the Internet on busy public wireless systems or on their mobile phone, but anyone can use it to speed things up.

Turbo mode functions in a very similar manner to the two Firefox methods mentioned above. Flash content is blocked and replaced with a button to enable it.

The really neat thing, though, is that when you're in Turbo mode, Opera's servers will compress the images and other graphic elements from a webpage as your browser downloads them. The images come through at a lower quality but much quicker. If required, right-click on the image and select "Reload image in full quality". As an example, Turbo mode shrunk a Facebook photo four fold (19Kb instead of 79Kb).

There are ways you can speed up Internet Explorer (IE) too, but they're not as sophisticated. It is possible, for example, to change IE's settings so that sounds, animation and even pictures on websites are never downloaded. To do this, click Tools, then Internet options, and then choose the Advanced tab. Scroll down the list until you come to Multimedia and untick the boxes that say Show animation, Play sound and Show pictures. The next time you visit a web page you'll just see boxes where the images are supposed to be. You can right-click on a picture box and choose "Show picture" but this only works for images that are in the foreground. Most websites also use background images as part of their design, and with images turned off you won't know they're there and you can't click to turn them on, even if you know they are there.

 

 

Copyright 2010 Actrix Networks Limited | Contact: editor@actrix.co.nz