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Fast Modem, Slow Browser Society

(originally written 1996, and updated in 1997 and 1999)

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When I joined the Internet community at the end of 1995, I felt like a Grand Prix motor racing driver, revving up his car at the start of his first big race. I had read the magazines and there I was sitting at my Pentium 60 powered Windows 95 computer with data injected Courier High Speed V34 modem ready to burn silicon. The fastest kid on my block. The countdown ended, the lights turned to green and I was off....... to nowhere, fast. Pages seemed to take forever to download. I personally welcomed every gif that found its way to my browser. "www.microsoft.com" has no DNS entry! Was this what the future was going to be like? Fortunately I learned about turning graphics off, and I did have free local calls at the weekend so I could spend a few hours downloading a large (2MB) program. Then my ISP switched to new internet cable source and I saw what large bandwidth meant. Fantastic. It still took 10 to 15 seconds to load a complex page, but you begin to see what it could be like. The trouble was all the time the applications were getting bigger, and the pages had more and more associated files. The time to download a page started increasing again. This was when the Fast Modem Slow Browser Society came into being, and my version of Parkinson's Law of the Internet slowly crystalised.


Author: Roger A. Trobridge
Composed: May 17th 1996

Subject: The Fast Modem, Slow Browser Society

As the Life President, Chairman and sole paid-up member of the above Society I continue to fight for the rights of the surfer in search of information, as enshrined in the freedom of information act. I refer to the little quoted clause that states "the access to information on the internet shall not be hindered by the excessive and unprofessional use of graphics and programmers toys". The current explosion of Java, fancy backgrounds, huge graphics files, and special effects goes completely against the old internet philosophy of the simple, clear and fast transfer of information between all individuals. Documents will soon need to be prepared by "specialists", or "experts". Instead of them being viewed as carriers of the information they contain. Points will be awarded for technical merit and artistic impression. In an ideal world, with infinite bandwidth, I would not mind people transferring huge data files around the internet for fun, but when I can't send my parsimoniously crafted , bulimic pages at 28.8kb, because the cables are full of bits of gifs, and megs of pegs, it is time for action.

I would like to take this opportunity announce the existence of a group which should send shockwaves through the new elite of business society, the web page designer. (In the land of the blind, the one eyed men get paid a lot of money). Whilst surfing in a quiet backwater I came across the recently formed (this bit is serious! - honestly)

The Bandwidth Conservation Society -

They are dedicated to efficiency and quality in the use of the various elements of page construction, and they provide tutorials in the reduction of 8 bit .gifs down to 7,6,5,4 and 3 bits, the use of adaptive palettes, and the use of small sized background files. If you have to do it , do it responsibly. I expect to see you all at the next meeting.

As far as the designer toys are concerned, until the coffee bean moth comes along and decimates the current crop of Java applets, I can always continue to use Explorer 2.0 for fast information searches. It seems cruel to turn off all the graphics, but I have been known to do it.

Once the programming of web pages has been recognised as an Olympic event, I can switch on Netscape, or by then, Explorer 3.0, and marvel at the prowess of the true professionals of the sport - at least until random drug tests reveal that the winners have all consumed far too much caffeine.

Update October 1996. The Bandwidth Conservation Society have an gone full time and have a fully revampted site, with lots of ways to produce great pages economically. If you want to be a professional web page designer visit their site. You may meet other members of the FBSMS paying homage there.

Update August 1997. I now have upgraded my USR Courier modem to 33k and recently to 56k. I have a good quality phone line, and I have seen transfer rates up to 4.9k. As outlined above, the speed is a function of the available bandwidth, and can still drop down to well below 1k. Fortunately one of my providers has good cable access to the US and so the average bandwidth I see has improved a lot. Web site designers are trying their best to fill it up again, and Push Technologies like Pointcast are also adding to the congestion. The improved bandwidth does allow me to experience streaming technologies like Real Audio and Video, under favorable conditions. Very impressive.

Update January 1999. I now have upgraded my USR Courier modem to the X2 56k standard, and I have seen transfer rates up to 5.5k. As outlined above, the speed is a function of the available bandwidth, and can still drop down to well below 1k, but in general this is far less frequent. Fortunately both of my providers support X2, anf they have continued to improve their access and so the average bandwidth I see has improved a lot. Web site designers are trying their best to fill it up again with Java and dynamic programing, but the prominence of Push Technologies like Pointcast has fortunately decreased. The increased bandwidth, and the improved software now allow me to experience streaming technologies like Real Audio, MP3, and Video, under favorable conditions. News sites are routinely including these technologies to enrich their pages.


Parkinson's Law of the Internet

states that whatever the bandwidth , applications will always evolve to consume more than is currently available.


This article was written by Roger Trobridge, and any suggestions or questions can be sent to him at gopher@internet-gopher.com

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This page and all its contents, © 1999, all rights reserved.

Roger Trobridge, The Internet Gopher, gopher@internet-gopher.com
.