Even in a world where high-speed internet is increasingly common, anyone can get stuck with a slow or uncertain connection at home, in the office, or at the worst possible time while travelling. There are, however, measures anyone can take to ensure they're getting the most information and functionality they can when crunched for time or pressed for bandwidth—or if you just don't like waiting for things while online. We're offering up today 10 tweaks, downloads, and work-arounds for slow connections, slow computers, or just fast-minded people. Read on for the tips that might just save your life some night when 4 Kb/s is all you can muster. Photo by laffy4k.
10. Use Google to read HTML copies of huge documents
Ah, Adobe Acrobat. It's free and universally used to view documents exactly as they'd print, but few things bottleneck a browsing session like an 8MB PDF file, especially if your browser crashes before showing it. But we can all benefit from Google's zeal to index everything on Earth. If you've got a Google Docs or Gmail account, uploading or emailing a PDF gives you an option to view its as an HTML, which is going to come through a lot faster. The same holds for PowerPoint presentations, Word 2007 .docx files, and nearly any document you can find in Google search. One of those work-arounds that's so simple, you'll be glad when you remember it when you're trying to jam through that presentation on a terrible hotel Wi-Fi connection.
9. Use TraceMonkey in Firefox 3.1
8. Use Safari or Opera
7. Make Faster, Fool-Proof Downloads with Down Them All
Right-clicking a picture or link, selecting "Save Link As," choosing a download spot—it gets real old, real fast, especially if you try to do it on every picture in a Flickr set, every MP3 on a music blog, or anywhere else you do your downloading. Free Firefox extension DownThemAll makes it easy to do all those things, or set up smart filters and settings to make any page with tons of files easy to navigate. For a good guide on setting that up, try our tutorial on supercharging your Firefox downloads with DownThemAll.
6. Bump up your cache size (and make other configuration tweaks)
Another set of revelations from living in dial-up land, the configuration options that you'd normally never touch are serious life-savers if you're on weak Wi-Fi, an older, slower system, or just tired of watching your mouse cursor do it's "waiting" animation over and over. Upping your cache size definitely speeds up your back button action and speeds up repetitive banners and graphics. Sites that really don't need graphics to work can be disabled with site-by-site exceptions in Firefox, and these days, any browser can open sites you might need to wait on in a new tab while you keep grooving in another. For getting something done on Google Docs or Zoho, reading feeds in Google Reader, or managing tasks in Remember the Milk, there's Google's Gears extension to work offline and connect only when you need to sync your data.
5. Throttle your home wireless network
Your home's wireless router doesn't have to be a neutral observer while watching your XBox, BitTorrent downloads, multiple laptops, and other web-connected apps and gear fight it out for a finite amount of bandwidth. Many routers let you negotiate connection rate treaties using Quality of Service settings—and those that don't can often be made to do so byTomato. The end result? You can let World of Warcraft run rampant in the evenings, set BitTorrent free in the dead of night, and keep your browser unthrottled during the day. Check out Adam's guide to ensuring a fast net connection when you need it for the geeky details.
4. Swap heavy sites for RSS feeds and mobile versions
Here's a not-so-secret tip about your Lifehacker editors—we couldn't possibly read the full version of every blog, news site, and aggregation site we pull our post material from every day. RSS feeds are this blog's bread and butter, and they're great for getting a lot of reading done in a short amount of time. We're split fairly evenly between the Google Reader webapp and NetNewsWire/NewsGator's desktop clients, but both are a great way to catch up on your regular web reading with a minimum of bandwidth, or no connection whatsoever. Along those lines, you can run any site that's chock full of text-y news through the Google Mobilizer for a version that's fast enough for a mobile phone, and very fast on a desktop.
Our side editor suggested this move after spending a week on a dial-up connection. Firefox users have it easy: Install the Adblock Plus and Flashblock extensions, and sites bogged down mostly by unnecessary Flash and huge display ads will come through a lot quicker. If you're cool with tweaking your router a bit, you can set up universal ad-blocking through it with the Tomato firmware, or use a solution specific to Chrome, on Internet Explorer through the Toggle Flash add-on or IE7Pro plug-in, and even on your iPhone or iPod touch. Lifehacker is, of course, an ad-supported site, and we'd ask that you use such tools only when bandwidth or time are at a serious premium, or for sites that bludgeon you over the head with lowering interest rates, free laptops, and the like.
2. Set up OpenDNS on your browser or router
If you're a customer of some commercial internet providers, you'll occasionally end up at an ad-filled page whenever you typo your way to a non-existent page, and how quickly your browser knows where to find its data depends on their heavily-taxed servers. You can do a lot better with OpenDNS, a free service that can speed up your page connections, open pages from keyword shortcuts, serve as a parental filter, and avoid spam-y "no site here" pages. The service provides detailed how-to instructions for both individual computers and routers, so it's definitely worth at least a try.
1. Use Secure, Automatic Passwords
Auto-saving, auto-filling passwords have made their way into most every browser, but, by default, they're only as secure as your ability to keep someone away from your keyboard. If your browser offers a master password option, use it—in Firefox, it's the only barrier between you and a single button unveiling all your passwords to snoopy friends or nefarious interlopers. Of course, if you're using the same weak password across all your site logins, you're just asking to have somebody get into your email, private social messages, and other private data. Using a secure password system can fix that. If you're using multiple browsers across different systems, you can keep your time-saving password fillers synced with Dropbox, or take care of bookmarks as well with the (Firefox only) Foxmarks.
Whether you need to get your browsing done quick, or you're just a fan of streamlined web surfing, what do you use to get more out of your time online? Tell us your own tips and tricks in the comments.