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Review: Google Web Accelerator

Google Web Accelerator offers to speed up your surfing -- or it will, once Google makes it available again.

Bigger, better, faster, more! Even in these days of gigahertz processors and broadband connections, users are naturally trying to exploit their power for the fastest access to information possible. Enter Google Web Accelerator.

(That is, enter Google Web Accelerator when it once more becomes available -- as of this writing, Google has halted downloads of the product.)

The premise is simple: Leverage the power of the Internet's premiere search engine by caching its contents and feeding that cached info directly to users, thus streamlining data delivery and bypassing any Internet traffic jams along the way. The software also pre-fetches pages to store locally on your hard drive (these are kept separately from your browser cache). Web Accelerator also compresses some data to add a further speed boost.

Google Web Accelerator requires Windows XP or Windows 2000 with service pack 3, and the Internet Explorer 5.5 or Firefox 1.0 browser. (You can, however, manually configure the software to work with other browsers.) Google doesn't recommend Web Accelerator for dial-up connections -- it's specifically geared towards broadband DSL and cable users.


A small icon displays how much time you've saved. (Click on image to expand.)
If you fit the profile and install Google Web Accelerator, you'll find it has a simple interface and unobtrusive design. The application loads a small icon in the upper right hand of your browser window that displays how much time you've saved. By clicking on the icon, you can turn off Google acceleration on specific Web sites (or fully disable the software). Other preferences are accessed through Google's Web-based interface.

Basic functions, such as Preferences, Performance Data, and Help, can be accessed by clicking on the icon in the Windows Taskbar. The Taskbar icon also lets you engage a quick disable function. While the features offered by the Taskbar and browser icons are a bit redundant -- it might have been better to lump all the functions into the Taskbar -- the interface is very straightforward and overall, the program is easy to figure out.

Over the course of three days of use, Web Accelerator claimed 10.6 minutes saved on my system, a fairly hefty chunk of time for a serious Web user. Of course, you should take this statistic with a grain of salt. With different levels of Internet traffic, your mileage will vary, so to test Google's optimistic reported stats I ran manual tests comparing Google accelerated page loads with unaccelerated page loads.

The results bore out some interesting phenomena, with some pages reporting significantly faster loads, some with nearly equal times, and even a couple with slower "accelerated" speeds. For example, CNN.com loaded in 4.55 seconds before Web Accelerator; the same page loaded in 1.12 after. iTunes.com only gained .07 seconds (from 2.38 to 2.31 seconds), while the Drudge Report actually took a little over 3 addition seconds to load.

Problems In Paradise?
From an end user perspective, Google Web Accelerator is a pretty transparent piece of software. However, some Web developers have expressed concerns about Google Web Accelerator's interaction with certain kinds of Javascript applications. While this may affect some users more than others, Web Accelerator is simple to disable for specific pages.

While the software doesn't require any personal info to install, Google Web Accelerator may be a bit too open for your tastes, depending on your level of concern over privacy. Google's own privacy policy states: "Google will receive your requests for unencrypted pages, along with information such as the date and time of the request, your IP address, and computer and connection information." The software also caches cookies, and if you enter information into a Web page form, data such as your name could be sent through Google's Web servers. If you don't feel comfortable possibly sharing this information, then Google Web Accelerator isn't for you.

While Google's initial rollout of Web Accelerator has been halted for the time being, Google reps claim it is "to scale the infrastructure," presumably to work out any kinks in the system for a more widespread launch. There is no word yet as to when the download will become available again, but stay tuned to this site for the latest information.

Overall, Google Web Accelerator delivers on its promise of faster web browsing speeds. How much of a difference this will make to you is another matter, but the clean interface and easy uninstall make it at least worth a test on your own PC.

Google Web Accelerator
Google, Inc.
Price: Free
webaccelerator.google.com

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