Opera's fired a broadside in the web content wars Thursday morning, becoming the first desktop Web browser with built-in ad blocking—and explicitly encouraging users to turn it on as a way of improving their browsing experience.
Competing browsers like Chrome or Firefox assign plugins like AdBlock Plus the task of blocking ads. But with Opera’s 37.0.2162.0 developer build for Mac OS and Windows, it's baked right into the software. Opera claims that turning on the ad-blocking feature can cut page load times by a whopping 90 percent, which PCWorld confirmed using a test build.
According to Krystian Kolondra, the senior vice president in charge of engineering for Opera, the current approach to advertising is damaging users’ online experiences. “Our goal is to provide the fastest and the smoothest online experience for our users,” he said in an email. “While working on that we have discovered that a lot more time is spent on handling ads and trackers than we thought earlier.”
Why this matters: Google’s business model depends on selling online advertising. But with a business model that doesn’t depend on it (and less than two-percent market share), Opera can afford to lead the charge against intrusive or annoying web ads. What we don't know is what the Web will look like when users block ads and “free” content providers restrict access in retaliation.
Ad blocking from the get-go
Online ads can be used for all sorts of reasons: to sell you things, to track you as you move around the Web, and even to plant malware on your machine. But it’s also extra code that must be loaded together with the text and images you want to see. All that slows down the time it takes a page to load.
Install the new version of Opera, load a page, and immediately a popup appears, asking whether you “would like to block ads and surf the Web faster.” If you agree to Opera’s invitation, ads are blocked right away. Alternatively, you can either check a box in the Settings menu (do a search for “ads” in the Settings search box; it’s faster) or simply click a small, grayed-out “shield” icon to the far right of the URL bar. When ad-blocking is enabled, that shield is blue.
Not convinced that ad-blocking will make a difference? Then click the shield: Opera added an incredibly slick benchmark tool to show you how many ads it’s blocked on a given page. The browser will also perform a speed test, timing how fast a page loads with or without ads. It’s incredibly convincing.
In my tests, Opera’s ad-blocking software eliminated traditional banner and display ads, as well as pre-roll ads on YouTube and other sites. (You’ll still see embedded video on news pages, however.) According to Kolondra, the browser will block tracking pixels and third-party scripts if they’re used for advertising purposes.
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