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Leaving the T1 Behind
Aug 12, 1996 :: Michael Sippey

It's unfair, really. If you're reading this over a modem you're suffering without knowing it -- you're part of the net's underclass. Because for all the talk of "equal access to the means of production" that the net gives you, in reality it's not quite that way. Because right now, as I write this, I'm connected to the net at some ungodly speed. 1.544 mega-bits per second. It's more than 50 times faster than the 28.8 modem I use at home.

Obviously, with a T1 connection, I get a completely different view of the web than the one my parents have, connected to the net through AOL. I get images that load almost instantly. Java applets that are actuall y useful, if only because they run almost instantly. A connection that's up all day, enabling useless toys like Pointcast.

They get glacial download times and network outages.

I'm leaving all that bandwidth behind -- that, and my job, my coworkers, my salary... As of next week I'll be a student, and will be be surfing the web at mere mortal speeds. And I think my perspective is g oing to change.

No more watching one site after another play "keeping up with the Jones'," which usually means fatter graphics, more whiz-bang applets, and loads of Shockwave. Inst ead, I think I'll be looking for sites that intelligently serve up nothing but ASCII. They're few and far between.

In HotWired's recently launched WebMonkey, there was a discussion thread last week re. browsers and "the speed of the web ." Most of the posts came from a web publisher's perspective; wish list items like downloadable fonts, cascading style sheets, true HTML standards. But one post (OK, it was min e) asked for some things from the user's perspective. The perspective that really matters when it comes to speed. Simple things like loading all the text before loading any of the images, loading interlaced images before non-interlaced im ages, any images before Java applets, and Java applets before plug-in data.

Plus, one not-so-simple thing. Let the page specify the next logical URL, and have the browser load that page/image/file/applet behind the scenes while you're reading the current page. A fairly simple idea that could drastically change the nature of browsing over slow phone lines.

(Of course, it could completely screw up ad hit counting, but that's another story.)

The web, for the consumer, takes entirely too much time, and requires entirely too much patience, for usually very little in return. The bandwidth "haves" can laugh about the web's mid-life crisis, all the while knowing that the "have nots" will never get the chance to enjoy their fair share of streaming video before the web loses its inertia...



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