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Tom Worthington

With Tom Worthington FACS, Visiting Fellow, Department of Computer Science, Australian National University

Make your Internet connection work faster without paying more, 27 August 2001

If you are tired of the "world wide wait", rather than the "world wide web" there are a few simple ways to speed up the downloading of web pages and other material from the web:

Don't expect the impossible

While there are some ways to speed up an Internet connection, you need to have a realistic idea of what is possible to expect on the sort of connection you have:

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Your computer screen can display about 300 words, or about 2000 characters. Each character takes about one byte of storage, for a total of 2000 bytes. A photograph filling the screen requires about 80,000 bytes of storage, or 40 times as much as text (or about the same as 1000 words). The same one thousand words of text spoken would take about about 600 times as much storage as the text. A video of that much text narrated would take several thousand times as much. When looking for content tailor your search to the bandwidth you have available.

Just the text thanks

Many web sites have a "low speed", "text only" or "accessible" button on the front page. This might be indicated by a wheelchair pictogram:

International Symbol of AccessibilityThe most recognizable Symbol of Accessibility, which we call the International Symbol of Accessibility, or ISA, is often known as the wheelchair symbol...

From: Symbols of Accessibility, H. Toji Companies, 2001

Select this option for quick "no frills" information. These sites are designed for blind users and others with disabilities, but work equally as well for low speed internet connections:

Web accessibility: web pages for the blind, a brief public presentation of this material, will be given at the Australian National University Open Day, 1 September 2001, 2.30 - 3.00 pm, room N101, ground floor of Computer Science and IT Building [108].

Even if the web designer didn't include a low speed option you can tell your web browser not to download graphics and see if the web site is still usable. The "site map" may also provide a useful shortcut. Avoid movies, animations and audio, unless you really want them.

Use a search engine

Search engines can save hunting around the web looking for information. A list of common search engines is provided by the Librarians' Index to the Internet (2001). Some search engines provide a text copy of the documents found in their cache. This may be much quicker than waiting for the document from the original location (but may not be up to date).

What's in a Cache?

Your web browser has a cache to hold frequently read documents. Check the documentation to see how big it is and if you are using one. That way the second time you look at the same document it is likely to come from the cache on your computer disk, not over the Internet. Your internet service provider may have a Proxy you can use, where they keep copies of documents frequently used by clients, saving downloading them over the Internet. Check the documentation which came with your Internet account.

Decline Attachments

Tired of waiting for your e-mail to download? You may be able to tell your e-mail software to not download attachments (or just download 50kbytes of material). This way you can read the message and see if you really want the attachment. Most attachments can be deleted without downloading as they are unwanted junk mail.

Tips from Chris Johnson, Dept of Computer Science, The Australian National University:

In sending emails (and making it faster both to send and others to receive)

1. save the doc as plain text and send the plain text not the Word (and especially not Powerpoint) as email or as email attachments. or consider saving and sending as HTML if you want formatting i.e. reduce the bulk of messages (and make it easier for the non-Worded recipient)

2. if you must send Word: save Word docs using SaveAS before you send - reduces bulk of all those old old changes and makes it more secure (the recipient can't read your earlier drafts or even the original template of your letter to some one else altogether)

3. for the more sophisticated use compression in storing and sending public domain/freely available products: gzip for the technos, Stuffit for Mac users...

In browsing:

4. consider turning off automatic image loading in the browser and fetching the images only when you think you have arrived at the correct page (an old trick and often defeated by poor page design, still worth considering)

5. use disk cache settings in your browser (tradeoff local space for repeated time) and or the proxy cache at your ISP (try to use phone time only not long distance and remote server delays as well

6. have two windows open - be loading into one while you are reading the last thing fetched in to the other...

7. ensure enough free memory and disk space to run the browser efficiently - if there are lots of "cleaning up disk cache files" messages then you need more free disk space to go faster - really delete some rubbish by moving to trash and emptying the trash (with care!)

See also:


Thanks to members of the Australian Computer Society, Department of Computer Science ANU and the Link mailing list for assistance.

Further Information:

Comments and corrections to:

Copyright © Tom Worthington 2001.