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Summary:

Software innovations are often over-hyped, so I approached the Opera Turbo Labs preview version of the Opera 10 browser with — how shall I say? — hopeful skepticism. As one who has suffered (not too strong a word) with a slow rural dial up Internet connection […]

operaSoftware innovations are often over-hyped, so I approached the Opera Turbo Labs preview version of the Opera 10 browser with — how shall I say? — hopeful skepticism. As one who has suffered (not too strong a word) with a slow rural dial up Internet connection for the past 12 years, I’m eager to embrace any technology that promises to help speed things up.

Opera Turbo is described as a server-side optimization and compression technology that speeds up data transfer by reducing the amount of data that needs to be downloaded in order to view web pages by up to 80 percent, thereby providing significant improvement in browsing speeds over limited-bandwidth connections like mine, which gives me stone-age 26,400 bps throughput on good days at times of the day when not too many of my neighbors are online.

However, Opera Turbo also sounded a lot like so-called “Dial-up Accelerator” software, activation of which I’ve been paying $4.95 a month extra to my “only game in town” ISP over the past 18 months for. The Dial-Up Accelerator is actually a product of Slipstream Data Inc. — a Canadian software development subsidiary of BlackBerry smartphone maker Research In Motion. It helps somewhat, mainly by compressing, and therefore degrading the quality of web page images to varying degrees depending upon how much speed (ie: compression) you specify using a slider on the interface window. Although to get substantial improvement you really have to nuke the image resolution. It’s been helpful enough that I’ve kept paying the premium, but certainly no panacea.

This Thing Smokes!

However, Opera Turbo turns out to be a totally different story. This thing smokes! Well, relatively speaking. Broadband it isn’t, but it’s a whole lot faster than what I’m accustomed to. There’s a cost of course in terms of image quality. A lot of the time that’s a tolerable trade-off, and if you turn the images off entirely, page load times begin to approach the speed I get on my local library’s Wi-Fi hotspot (with images on in the latter case) fed by a DSL line.

Downside: Image Quality Reduction

This screenshot illustrates the degree of quality reduction with Opera Turbo enabled and reading out a 6.8 times speed improvement. It’s actually something of a worst-case example and some images don’t look all that bad for casual viewing.

turbicomparo_e

As for the browser itself, it looks and behaves pretty much like the non-turbo Opera 10 alpha preview I’ve been checking out for the past few weeks, which is to say very well. Opera is in most respects my favorite browser already, and for me this turbo booster is icing on the proverbial cake.

The only interface difference is a small icon in the lower left corner that toggles the Turbo compression on or off and indicates status and the degree of compression achieved on a particular page load.

turbotoggle_e

Still Needs Some Refinement

This is alpha level software in a time limited test phase, and Opera’s Turbo technology still needs some refinement. For example, I couldn’t get it to load the radar image on Environment Canada’s site, although other images on the site loaded fine. Dynamic Web technologies such as Ajax (XmlHttpRequests) and Flash are supported, but some plugin content will load only after clicking on the empty element. Note also that for undiminished security, even with Turbo enabled, encrypted traffic does not go through Opera’s compression servers, so when you’re on a SSL site, bypass kicks in and you communicate with the SSL site directly.

Works With Any Type of Connection

However, where Turbo works, it kicks butt, and I’m already addicted. Opera says it will work with any type of connection, but obviously you’ll get the most out of it when you’re stuck with limited bandwidth, not just poky dial-up connections, but also in circumstances like when too many people are on the Wi-Fi in the cafe or you’re surfing the Web through your mobile phone when commuting on the train.

Opera says Turbo will be part of future desktop versions of their Opera browser, and I can’t wait for a fully debugged final version to be released.

In the meantime, you can watch it in action or just download the preview on the Opera Labs site and try it out for yourself.

  1. Can you see the sky? Why not a satellite based solution for your slow internet…?
    I live in Europe and now 3G GSM internet access is pretty common but some years ago i though of going satellite… now even fiber DSL is beginning to catch up here…

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  2. Charles W. Moore Thursday, March 19, 2009

    Hi Halder Luis;

    I’ve thought of going satellite too, which is the only broadband alternative where I live (isolated rural area in Canada) so far. However, I don’t know what they charge for satelite Internet or what sorts of plans are available in Europe, but it’s too expensive for my budget here.

    When I first costed out satellite broadband service from various ISP several years ago, the cheapest deal I could find then worked out to a bottom line of more than $3,000 over a two year contract (that figure included the purchase of a dish and modem plus installation, setup and government licensing fees, locked in with a punishing penalty for early cancellation. Plus I would still need dialup service for weather-related satellite outages, as I neeed reliable Internet access for my work and I’m told by friends who have satellite service that it is interrupted by snow and ice storms. That’s more than I can afford or justify.

    Revisiting the issue more recently, I found that one ISP, Xplornet, now offers entry level (512 Kbps download/128 Kbps upload) satellite service for Can$59.95 per month plus Can$249.00 installation (mileage to outlying areas such as where I live extra), plus the cost of the dish and modem, but without a locked-in contract if you pay a premium up-front “system access” fee of Can$299 instead of Can$99 with a two-year contract. Still pretty steep, especially for those relatively poky (for broadband) throughput rates, which you can double or triple for monthly rates of Can$99 and Can$149 respectively. This deal is somewhat more tempting than what was being offered a couple of years ago, but still way too expensive for me to stomach when folks nine miles up or down the road can get DSL for Can$35 a month.

    We have been promised that ther will be wireless broadband service here by the end of this year that will be cost-comprtitive with rates where DSL or cable are available. I hope it happens, but in the meantime, Opera Turbo has just made living with dial-up a lot more tolerable.

    Charles

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  3. I live on a dirt road 25 miles from a moderate sized town. Fortunately, we’ve got several Wireless ISPs out here. Mine is SOLBroadband (http://solbroadband.com/) (very unfortunate name). They are great. I get about 8MB down & 2.5 up. This is better than many people in that moderate sized town. Woohoo!

    Best of luck to you in getting a good connection in the future.

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  4. Wow, really very impressive. Looking forward to using this for 3G tethering, should improve the browsing experience massively.

    Another option is to use the no-images plugin for Firefox. Of course, this is only really any good if you tend to browse text based websites.

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  5. “Another option is to use the no-images plugin for Firefox.”

    You need an extension for that in Firefox?! For real?

    Opera does that out of the box. There’s a button for it in the lower right corner of the user interface.

    Still won’t be as fast as Opera Turbo, though, I reckon.

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  6. If dial-up is your only option then some money and some search in google can allow you to use multiple dial-up connections at once … you’ll have to pay for the extra line plus the ISP … however you can get good speed … your ISP will evolve eventually … but I think if they can’t provide dial-up at its fullest … they must have a problem with their lines … maybe they have satellite at the back end … WiMAX and Mesh Networking were developed to provide last mile coverage … maybe your town gets lucky!

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  7. Beware: The US is at least 10 years behind Europe in telecoms, so you can expect dial-up sessions to take place until around 2015… By then they will patent “square bits” – where only two is required to make a byte…
    The main problem with Opera is that its European, so they need Firefox and Safari just in case. That the mark-up language we use on the net originates from Europe just prove their need to be concerned. I sent HTML emails in 1985, but then it was strickly “proprietary” as no US company had provided editors and browsers.

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  8. [...] in March, I reviewed the Opera Turbo Labs preview version of the Opera 10 alpha browser incorporating server-side [...]

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  9. [...] won’t revisit the Turbo feature in great detail, since how it works was outlined thoroughly in the previous article, but a new configuration option enables an Opera Turbo setting to activate [...]

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