Low Bandwidth Web Surfing

Surfin’ the Web

I have already mentioned popular Internet utilities such as skype and youtube.  But what about that silly thing the World Wide Web?  Is that going to chew your bandwidth?  Well, it can if you aren’t careful, though it’s not nearly as big a culprit as those files previously mentioned.  Before we start talking about the web though, we need to break it down a bit more, mostly into two parts:

  1. Static Web – These are websites in the more traditional sense of the word.  In this situation, you go to a website, it downloads its contents (pictures and text) onto your and then waits for you to click a link that restarts the cycle all over again.  Many web browsers are good with static web pages and can optimize how much they download and caching items that are used mutliple times and whatnot. A good example of a static page is a blog like this one.
  2. Dynamic Web- The face of the future.  These are the websites like Facebook and GMail that once you open them, they act more like applications than traditional web pages.  In fact the most dynamic of them all are coming to be known as, “web apps,” because of their app-like behavior.  The caveat, all of that dynamic behavior means it is constantly eating your bandwidth, bits at a time.  Leave a dynamic page open in a browser, and before you know it, you’ve racked up megabytes worth of bandwidth charges.

With this nice jargon out of the way, let’s move onto the tips.  First off, I will state that visiting websites that are mostly text, with minimal pictures, is not going to eat up your bandwidth.  Most websites are like documents in terms of size, on the order of dozens of kilobytes, nothing major.  Even most websites now know how to format their images properly so as to not chew up bandwidth, with pictures on static pages possibly doubling the size.  But be aware, not everyone is so smart and you may get linked to a photo that is several megabytes in size.  If you decided to download that whole photo, say goodbye to your bandwidth.

So here are the tips:

  1. Use a modern web browser.  This means ditch your Internet Explorer 6.  The big four are all solid alternatives: Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, Opera 10 and Internet Explorer 8.  I prefer Mozilla Firefox because it is completely cross-platform (Mac, Windows and Linux), and also supports the Open Source Software philosophies I highly value.
  2. Disable Pictures.  How to do this is different in each browser, but is most likely located under your browsers options menu.  This will automatically prevent pictures on websites from downloading, saving you megabytes.  Most of the browsers have what are known as exception lists which allow you to add certain websites where it is ok to download pictures.  Be aware, web designers use, “pictures,” to help in their design, so all of a sudden you may find that your favorite site no longer has a background gradient, or rounded corners.  The only way to get them back is to enable pictures for that site, which will bring back all pictures.  It’s an all or nothing approach.  Opera 10 has the most fine-grain picture-loading control of them all.
  3. Use a download manager.  There are many, but if you are using Firefox, may I suggest the DownThemAll extension.  This will let you see exactly how many megabytes are being downloaded, and give you control to pause and resume downloads mid-stream, in case you all of a sudden need to conserve your remaining megabytes, but don’t want to lose the progress you have made.
  4. Visit low-bandwidth sites.  My top three trafficked sites in a day all have low-bandwidth version.  BBC runs a text only version at http://news.bbc.co.uk/low.  Facebook runs their developing-world oriented Lite version at: http://lite.facebook.com.  And if you are a GMail user, scroll to the bottom of the page where you will see an option for, “GMail View: Standard | Basic HTML.” Select Basic HTML.
  5. Opera 10 comes with what is called a Turbo Mode.  When in Turbo Mode, any and all information that is destined for your computer first goes through an Opera-run server that compresses all of the data and then ships it to your computer.  Once downloaded, your Opera 10 browser automatically decompresses the information, but without taxing your bandwidth.  This makes the web experience seem faster and uses less bandwidth at the same time.  All of it is seamless to the end-user who will only see content.  It even can compress images a bit, though it leaves some compression-artefacts behind.

Stay tuned, more to come!

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