Web Acceleration

Brandon says, I read something about Google Web Accelerator speeding up my browser, but now it isn’t available. Does this actually work? How can I get something to speed up browsing now that Google stopped offering their program?

Web acceleration has been around for a long time. Even with broadband connections, we typically end up waiting some fraction of a second for a page to load. It’s typically made up of two important components. One part of the process speeds up the time it takes for your computer to find the location of a particular site. The other part of Web acceleration actually loads Web pages in the background while you do other things, so you aren’t waiting for the page to load. In some cases, Web acceleration compresses things like images to reduce file size, further speeding up page load times, which may speed up browsing but generally makes pages look fairly ugly. I personally don’t recommend using any of the compression methods because the overall quality degradation just isn’t worth the fractional seconds of load time you save.

One of the most obvious ways to boost your page load time is by decreasing the amount of time it takes your computer to look up Web addresses. Each time you type http://www.domain.com into the IE or Firefox address bar, the computer sends a request to the Domain Name Servers provided by your ISP to translate http://www.domain.com into the numerical address of that site. Each on of these requests takes some fraction of a second to perform, often about 1/10 of a second. When the result of the request is returned to your computer, it then loads the page in the browser window. Using a software app to cache this DNS lookup request on your machine can eliminate almost all of the lookup time required, because instead of waiting for a computer somewhere else to find the information, the browser gets the information directly from your PC. Several apps act as a DNS lookup intermediary, some free and some shareware. Probably the best of the free tools for this purpose is FastCache from AnalogX.

The second component of Web acceleration, downloading pages in the background can be achieved in one of two ways. An artificial sense of background downloading is achieved by using tabbed browsing. Firefox and the Maxthon overlay for Internet Explorer both offer the option of loading pages on new tabs in the background while still viewing the current page. I say this is artificial because it requires the act of clicking on a link to open the new tab. In many cases this type of solution is good enough because you may not be finished with the page containing the link anyway. True Web accelerators actually pre-load a certain number of pages linked to the current page when you first load the page. In effect, the accelerators are clicking the links for you and loading them in the background in anticipation of you later clicking the link. With this type of acceleration, you get a more instantaneous gratification because the link you click is immediately available.

The best app I’ve found for pre-loading pages is LinkFox, which is part of the TweakMASTER PRO optimization suite. LinkFox does an awesome job preloading Web pages under all kinds of scenarios. TweakMASTER PRO also includes a DNS caching tool that is effectively comparable to FastCache, along with a bunch of tools that provide information about your PC network connections. TweakMASTER PRO is not free, so you need to determine whether speeding up your browsing is worth the money, but if you’re looking for a way to optimize all aspects of your browsing, you’d need several individual tools to get all the performance tied conveniently into this one optimization suite and as far as I know, the Google Web Accelerator is the only thing that really compares for improving page load times. FastCache will definitely shave time off your browsing without spending a dime, so either way you come out ahead.