Web designers seem to work on the assumption that there's a broadband connection behind every browser. The reality is very different, of course, and anything that claims to make surfing faster merits a look.
What impressed us most about Onspeed was the quality of its compression technology. Pages spring into your browser two or three times more quickly than normal and images are not overly degraded in the process.
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Onspeed's trick involves com-pression, with more than 30 algorithms putting the squeeze on Web pages. With less raw data to transfer, pages can be downloaded to your browser much more quickly.
As we know only too well, pages with lots of embedded images - or those lumbered with one or two whoppers - are the slowest to download. It is on such pages that Onspeed works best. When visiting a succession of image-heavy pages, we found that surfing could be five or even six times faster. When we ran repeated tests over a prolonged series of broadly representative URLs, the overall gain was a factor of just under three.
Compression is a lossy business, which means that images look progressively worse the more it is applied. Quite how much resolution you're prepared to sacrifice in the pursuit of speed is a subjective matter, but you can adjust Onspeed's output with a slider control. At maximum compression we noticed a considerable reduction in image quality without much in the way of additional payback, whereas favouring quality markedly slowed surfing.
Certain file down-loads are quicker when using Onspeed, particularly Office docs and PDFs. We halved the time it took to download a PDF version of a 328-page report by using Onspeed. Importantly, PDFs are compressed for faster downloading and then re-expanded when they arrive at your PC. In other words, unlike images, documents are subjected to lossless compression akin to zipping and unzipping files.
E-mail can also be accelerated with the same compression techniques, but the benefits here are less obvious. If somebody sends you a picture as an e-mail attachment or embedded in a message, the chances are that you want to receive it in its original form, not a squished and blurry version. And although you can always disable Onspeed to reload a Web page and see images in their native resolution, you don't get a second chance with e-mail. Still, for sifting sackloads of HTML-formatted spam, Onspeed's compression is welcome.
Onspeed works only with Internet Explorer, not with browsers such as Opera and Mozilla, and e-mail integration works only with Outlook and Outlook Express. This is currently being addressed. Onspeed also promises new algorithms for compressing and speeding up movie and MP3 downloads.
Unfortunately, for Web pages and e-mails to be compressed before being down-loaded to your PC, they are routed through Onspeed's servers. There are clear implications for privacy here and we are particularly uneasy about the idea of a third party sitting between sender and inbox. Also, although Onspeed does work with broadband connections, the difference is much less noticeable in practice.
Finally, remember that you can switch off images in your browser to reap even greater rewards than are possible with compression. True, the Web looks interminably dull without graphics. But as a temporary measure - when scouring 100 Google hits in a hurry, say - it's worth the effort.
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