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You think it’s the kind of thing that happens to other people, but sometimes, calamity befalls us. Sometimes, the gods are cruel and they take away your life force. Yes, one day, we will all have to deal with a slow internet connection.
Drama aside, it’s not an uncommon scenario. You might be at a coffee shop with too many people logged onto the Wi-Fi and the limited bandwidth isn’t enough to keep everyone running. Or, like me, you might just live in India. But hey, with a little ingenuity, you can still get your work done and sneak in some entertainment even on those low speeds.
Check for a faster connection around you
The absolute first thing to do when you have a slow connection is to search for a better one. The Web is full of kind strangers who have uploaded information about Wi-Fi hotspots in areas across the world, many of them free.
People often share which venues have a Wi-Fi hotspot on FourSquare. Some will even include a password. The good news is that you don’t need the FourSquare app to find this out. On iOS, 4sqwifi gets the job done. On a desktop browser, you can just head to FourSquare.com and search for “Free Wi-Fi”, “Wi-Fi hotspot” and “Wi-Fi” in that order. Just browse the map and find what’s best for you.
If you’re in the US and Canada or some of the major European countries, OpenWifiSpots is a pretty great resource too.
Switch to the fastest DNS
The DNS (Domain Name Server), in simple terms, is the technology that lets you type “www.google.com” to go to Google instead of typing an IP address. And you can change the DNS on your device so that you have the fastest resolution for URL-to-IP. For this, Namebench is the best tool and it works on Windows, Mac and Linux.
If you’re on Windows, you might want to take a look at DNS Jumper (our DNS Jumper review) to quickly switch between different DNS services. It’s easier to use than Namebench and updates the fastest server in real-time for you to change in a click.
Switch off data downloads
When you don’t have a slow connection, there are lots of things running in the background that you may not even know about. I’d recommend checking with NetLimiter for Windows and Little Snitch (our Little Snitch review) for Mac OS X. These will show which software is accessing the Internet—like torrent downloads, Twitter apps or even Windows update—and you can shut them down manually.
Switch off auto-refresh
It’s also important to check your web browser for tabs that have elements which auto-refresh, like Facebook or Twitter. Depending on your browser, head to the extensions and search for “suspend tab”, “stop auto refresh” and “stop auto reload”—there are plenty of choices and most of them will get the job done, so pick the one with the best rating and go with it. But whatever you do, make sure you stop every tab that is set to auto-refresh.
Disable Google Instant
Google Instant is of immense help in regular computing, but it works by using bandwidth. And when bandwidth is precious, you need to disable it. Ann’s got a full guide on how to permanently disable Google Instant and Google Suggest.
Switch to HTML View on Gmail
Also, when you go to load up your Gmail, chances are you will see a slow loading bar. Look at the bottom-right of the screen, where you will see “Load basic HTML”. Click that and you’ll get a leaner, faster Gmail.
Switch on Opera Off-Road Mode
The latest Opera 15 is a great Chrome-like browser and it’s got one cool feature: Opera Off-Road Mode. It is similar to the older Opera Turbo feature. Enabling that will make Opera lower the quality of every image on every page, in turn loading the page faster. You can still right-click and ask for a full-res image when you want it. To switch it on, click on the Opera button and choose the option as in the screenshot.
No need for mobile sites, stick with Opera Off-Road
One common advice I’ve heard is to change your desktop browser’s User Agent to mobile mode so that you are automatically served mobile websites instead of desktop ones. But while this advice made sense in the past, it doesn’t now. I monitored different websites using Opera Off-Road Mode and loading their mobile versions on Chrome and Firefox. Since so many sites now come with a responsive design that’s made for mobile, tablet or desktop, the images are actually bigger than what Opera Off-Road Mode serves. TL;DR: don’t switch to mobile websites, use Opera Off-Road Mode instead.
Install Adblock Plus
While we recommend saying no to ad-block extensions, when you’re stuck with low speeds, you need to get Adblock Plus for your browser to stop all those ads and other unwanted elements from loading. It’s also a good idea to disable Flash with FlashControl or Flashblock.
Enable YouTube Feather
Look, a video isn’t going to run well on a slow connection, so it’s best not to fire up YouTube. But if you absolutely must watch one, you should first enable YouTube Feather Beta to speed up YouTube. This strips away all the unnecessary elements of the video-sharing site like comments, extended suggestions, video info, etc. and gives it a barebones look that’s much faster to load. It also uses the advanced web techniques for faster loading.
Share your tips
I employed all of the above over the past few weeks when I was stuck with a slow connection. I also found it helpful to keep a task list of all the things I’d need to do on a faster connection (like video uploads, downloading large files) and work around those in a regular work day. At the end of it, I’d fire up 3G or go to a fast Wi-Fi hotspot and finish all of those tasks.
I’m sure you have tips to share from your experience of being on a slow internet connection, and that’s what the comments are for!