Web Browsers — Short & Long Splices

I thought I had mentioned this during our last ICW sojourn, but searching revealed I had not. Traveling, we had two browsers set up for working on the Web depending on whether we were using tethered modem/WIFI or cable/fiber land-line (now it’s two browsers and two laptops).* Two reasons: speed and speed.

Speed #1 comes from not having to flip a lot of configuration switches back and forth when changing data-link types. Speed #2 comes from having our “Slow Source” browser intensely optimized for slow connections.

Here are some things we’ve done when using glacial data rate sources:

Reduce Down-link Traffic

  • Use a browser that compresses web pages on the server-side*
  • We bookmark the “mobile” version of websites where they are available — opting for functional vs the pretty. Google Mobilizer [http://www.google.com/gwt/n] can convert some pages to pseudo-mobile versions (and be prepared for ugly).
  • We set browser cache to max to minimize repeated page calls.
  • Changed our start page to a blank page (and later we went to Google’s Mobilizer page for our Slow Source Start Page.)
  • We use an ad-blocker to kill unwanted general ad traffic (and a Google ad-blocker as well)
  • We made “Load Images = “Off” our norm and only turn it on when images are what we are looking for.

Reduce Automatic Traffic

  • Turned off Auto Update — yes there is some security risk here, but we actively manage the problem.
  • Turned off Auto Synchronization — Usually nothing syncs but the browser still takes about as much time for a zero sync as it does for a modest one.
  • Block Automatic Flash loads — and we actively seek sites that don’t use it.

Reduce Browser “Churn”

  • Use zero to minimum “extensions” with the exceptions noted above.
  • Maximize browser cache
  • Open only a single tab to start

*Full disclosure.

While we were on the ICW, we experimented with the Opera and Safari Browsers. We didn’t like Safari at all. Opera was just OK. Opera has come a long way since then. But we don’t like having to keep two user interfaces in mind. We keep Opera in reserve for its server-side compression features, but we operate with two browser configurations of Firefox for now. Given that our needs are alpha-numeric centric, this is working for us. Were we to become more involved with down-linking graphics** and images underway it might be we would go back to Opera for the compression feature.

For now, taking all the other steps above has not made the compression important enough for us to play the two different browsers game. On the few weather sites from which we do want synoptic maps and other graphic products, we have found several sites that use bandwidth friendly .gif files. Why not just use “Opera” in two configurations? We both know the Firefox and Chrome UIs very well (and fairly deeply). Starting with our radar, we have eight comm-computing UI’s with unique keypads and menu structures to remember. Learning another right now (simple though it might be) is just not a high priority for us.

While we still use WIFI and a laptop, we are increasingly using our smartphone’s browser over 3G 4G/LTE or WIFI. Because these phones are bandwidth challenged, there has been a lot of down-link optimization (though not enough). For now we use the phone to find the sites we are looking for, and then we “share” the links with ourselves via email drafts. This way, should we log into a WIFI network with a laptop, we can open our draft mail folder and go directly to the site rather than re-searching. We also keep our key bookmarks in a draft email. This makes them available no matter how we access the web. It eliminates the need to sync them. [Export your Bookmarks as an HTML file. Open that file in a word-processor. Copy the contents and paste them into the body of a draft email. Save the Draft. Now your Bookmarks are where you can reach them from wherever you can reach your draft email folder.] Using these phones with WIFI does require a good signal. And using them requires considerable patience with the keyboard. The advent of phones with docking stations for more finger-friendly keyboards is plus; the prices for such are categorically ridiculous.

** A 768 x 496 (381K pixel) color synoptic chart is 68KB as a GIF, 78KB as a PNG (114%) and 290KB as a JPG (426%). These relative percentages can vary but not by much. So you can see what a mega-pixel photo can mean for down-link and why compression really becomes interesting with graphics.

Interestingly, a site called “Lifehacker” had much the same (though more Opera-phyllic) content posted yesterday [4/13/11]. In fact, it prompted me to write this. So, a polite head nod to Whitson Gordon, an Editor there.



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