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  #1  
Old 12-02-2007, 05:45 AM
Brad R Brad R is offline
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Join Date: Apr 2007
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Posts: 606
Arrow Satellite FAQ: Improving Performance

(I'm going to need a lot of help with this FAQ. I use the Opera browser under Linux, so I don't have much direct knowledge of how to "tweak" other systems for better performance. I'll share what I've used, and what information I can find for other systems, but my own contributions will be somewhat limited.)

Broswer tweaks

I've been looking around for any published "tweaks" for the Xplornet Surfbeam modem. There are many such published for the HughesNet modems; where are ours? I finally decided to start looking for WildBlue tweaks, since the U.S. WildBlue service uses the same modem as Xplornet. Success at last. WildBlue offers an "optimizer" program that tweaks your browser (IE or Firefox). I'm not sure that program is available to Xplornet users, and it includes a few undesirable optimizations, such as how to configure for WildBlue's proxy server. So here's how to make the relevant changes manually:

1. Firefox

In the address line of Firefox (where you type URLs manually), type about:config and hit Enter.

In the "filter" box, enter network.http (this just makes it easier to find the configuration settings we need).

Right-click on the line network.http.max-connections, click Modify, enter the value 10, and click OK.
Check that network.http.max-connections-per-server is set to 8. (This is the default value, so it shouldn't need changing.)
Right-click on the line network.http.max-persistent-connections-per-server, click Modify, enter the value 4, and click OK.
Right-click on the line network.http.pipelining.maxrequests, click Modify, enter the value 10, and click OK.
Look at the line network.http.pipelining. If the value is "false", then right-click on that line, then click Toggle to make it "true".
Look at the line network.http.proxy.pipelining. If the value is "false", then right-click on that line, then click Toggle to make it "true".
Then just close the browser window -- your changes are automatically saved.

I think the last option (proxy.pipelining) is only useful to WildBlue customers, since their NOC provides a proxy server and Xplornet's does not. But there's no harm in enabling it.

Setting network.http.max-connections to 10 reduces the maximum number of simultaneous requests Firefox can make. This limit is required by the Xplornet modem; it can crash and require a reset if you make too many connections. The number 10 has been determined by other users' trial and error; Xplornet does not publish this specification.

Enabling network.http.pipelining and setting network.http.pipelining.maxrequests to 10 improves performance by allowing multiple HTTP (web) requests to happen in parallel. (You'll see the improvement if you load a page with a lot of small images.) This site provides a very good explanation of all these tweaks, and also mentions that "you may experience problems on some sites with [pipelining] enabled." If you start experiencing problems on certain web sites, try toggling network.http.pipelining back to false.

2. Opera

(These instructions are current as of Opera 9.1)

Click "Tools" on the menu bar. Click "Preferences". Click the "Advanced" tab. Click "Network."
Set "Max connections to a server" to 8 (the default).
Set "Max total connections" to 8. (Unfortunately, it can't be set to 10; you can try 16 if you're feeling lucky, but if your modem starts locking up set it back to 8.)
Click "OK".
You don't need to enable pipelining; it's always enabled.

3. Internet Explorer

I don't use IE, so someone else will have to provide the equivalent configuration settings.
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  #2  
Old 12-08-2007, 07:24 AM
Brad R Brad R is offline
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Join Date: Apr 2007
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Default Improving performance with Ad Blocking

(Ad blocking is something I've been doing since my dial-up days to make web pages load faster. It helps with Xplornet too.)

Sometimes, more than half of the data which is downloaded when you view a web page is advertising. On a dial-up connection, this slows down your web browsing because all that data is going over a slow modem. On satellite, ads slow down your browsing because each ad requires a separate request, each request takes a few seconds to complete (because of latency), and your browser can do only 10 requests at a time (if you have pipelining enabled as described above).

The bottom line is, if you can block ads from being displayed, you can browse faster (and as a bonus, the ads won't count against the FAP limit). But you need to block the ads before the request leaves your computer....so on-line ad blockers won't help. Fortunately there are lots of easy ways to block ad requests.

Ad Blocking with a Hosts File

One clever way to block ad requests is to modify the "hosts" file on your computer. A quick refresher: when your browser loads a web page, or even an image on a web page, it will ask the Domain Name Server (DNS) to convert the name (like www.google.ca) to an IP address (like 64.233.161.104). Then your computer fetches the web page, image, or whatever from that IP address.

The "hosts" file lets you override the DNS for any given domain name. If a given domain -- say, ad.doubleclick.net -- appears in the hosts file, your computer won't even query the DNS. It will use IP address is specified in the hosts file, instead.

What makes this trick work is (a) advertising is almost always fetched from a different domain name than the web page you are viewing, and (b) there is a special IP address, 127.0.0.1, which will direct these requests back to your own computer. And your computer doesn't have the ad, so it will just appear as a blank space on the web page.

If you're using Windows, all the instructions you need are at http://www.mvps.org/winhelp2002/hosts.htm

If you're using Linux, it may not be so simple. It depends on whether your Linux installation is running a web server or not. If not, rather than just display a blank space where the ad would appear, the web page will wait...and wait...and finally time out. A quick test is to point your browser to http://127.0.0.1 -- if you get an immediate response, you can use the hosts file (/etc/hosts on a Linux system). If the browser times out, do not use a hosts file for ad blocking; use one of the browser-based methods described below.

Opera Browser

The Opera web browser provides two different ways of blocking ads, plus a popup blocker.

1. Block list. Opera 6 and later versions allow you to create a "filter.ini" file, which contains a list of URLs (domain names) that you wish to block. This works much the same as a hosts file, except you don't specify "127.0.0.1", and you can use wildcards (such as *.doubleclick.net where "*" means "anything"). Detailed instructions for setting up this file can be found at http://www.schrode.net/opera/url_filtering/index.html

You'll also need a list of URLs for all of the ad servers. It's a long list. I use the list from http://pgl.yoyo.org/adservers/ Another list, which I have not tried, is at http://my.opera.com/Tamil/blog/ad-block

2. Content Blocker. Opera 9 (the current version) includes an interactive "content blocker" function. This lets you manually block ads as you see them. Here are the instructions from http://operawiki.info/BlockAdvertisements

Quote:
Opera 9 has added a solid ad banner blocker, under the guise of a generic "content blocker". (This indirect name is presumably only there to keep a good corporate image.) To block an ad (either an image, frame, or Flash animation), right-click an empty spot on the page and choose Block content. Then, simply click the banners which you want to block. When finished, click Done in the pseudo-toolbar that appears at the top of the page.

By default, this tries to use some logic to block all ads from the source, but this may sometimes be overkill. To correct this, click the image again (to unblock it), then Shift-click it. This will add only the specific image to the filter list. This filter can then be broadened by clicking Edit.

A filter will typically contain asterisks ('*'). These mean "any number of any characters", much like in filenames for operating systems.
3. Popup Blocker. You'll also want to block pop-up ads. This is a standard feature in Opera. Click Tools -> Preferences -> General tab, and for "Pop-ups" select "Block unwanted pop-ups."

Firefox Browser

Firefox users can install ad blocking "add-ons." I think the original AdBlock plug-in works like the Opera 9 content blocker: you manually block ads as you see them.

The newer AdBlock Plus plug-in also lets you block specific advertisements. But it has an extra feature; it can automatically download a filter list from a server, so you don't have to take the time to manually block all the ads that you encounter.

(I haven't tried either of these plug-ins.)

You'll also want to block pop-up ads. This is a standard feature, and needs no plug-in. Click Edit -> Preferences -> Content tab, then make sure the "Block Popup Windows" box is checked.

Add-on Programs (Windows)

If you're using Internet Explorer, there are programs which you can download and run on your PC that will block advertising. Take care to get a program from a reputable source, since a lot of free "toolbars" and such are really spyware and trojan-horse programs designed to infect your computer. It's probably best to get a recommendation from a trusted source. (Since I don't use Windows, I have no recommendations to offer...followup messages on this topic are welcome!)
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  #3  
Old 12-08-2007, 07:31 PM
xplornetadmin xplornetadmin is offline
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Default

Thanks Brad!!!.. your time and effort helping others try and get better speeds and solve problems is greatly appreciated!!!

Mike
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  #4  
Old 12-09-2007, 07:24 AM
Brad R Brad R is offline
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Join Date: Apr 2007
Location: Ontario
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Default

Thanks. *blushes* I'm just trying to put down in print a lot of the things which have worked for me, and things that I learned while researching. I hope other people are able to fill in the blanks. (I really know nothing about Internet Explorer, for example.)
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A computer without Windows is like a chocolate cake without mustard. http://www.goodbyemicrosoft.net
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  #5  
Old 05-07-2008, 05:51 PM
Brad R Brad R is offline
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Join Date: Apr 2007
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Posts: 606
Default Blocking Flash content

You may have noticed that a lot of web pages -- more, it seems, every day -- are including "embedded" Flash animations as part of their content, or in sidebars, or even as advertisements. And you've probably noticed that these take a long time to download, and slow down everything else while the page in question is loading.

A friend tipped me to yet another add-on for Firefox: "Flashblock". This is really easy to install -- just go to that web page, click the Install button, and then restart your Firefox browser. From then on, every Flash animation will be replaced by a box and a stylized "f". The Flash is not downloaded. If you want to view it, you click on the "f" and then that Flash item is downloaded and displayed. You can set a "white list" for sites like YouTube that depend on Flash, if you want to bypass the blocking for that site.

There's also a Flashblock for Opera (different blockers for versions 8 and 9). This is a bit more tricky to install, and not as "polished" as the Firefox add-on, but it gets the job done. It means that much less junk to push me over the FAP limit.
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