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Opera's testing a browser that kills ads, accelerating webpage loading by up to 90 percent

Mark Hachman | March 10, 2016
A new developer edition is the first desktop browser to include built-in ad blocking.

You’ll notice that some sites still feature embedded advertising, based on a “whitelist” that Opera used for testing purposes only. “We have no intention of making a business out of maintaining such a whitelist,” Kolondra said. 

Opera’s ad blocking performs as... er, advertised

Using the test build provided to us by Opera, I found that page load times were essentially halved—an impressive feat, given that Opera (along with Chrome) already delivered the fastest page load times of all the browsers we tested last year.

I used two methods to measure page-load times: the stopwatch method I used before, when I tried to determine how quickly a page was navigable; and Opera’s own internal speed tests.  I used a sample of the ad-heavy, mass-media sites I had chosen for our browser roundup—including PCWorld.com.

As a representative example, I found that loading a page on The San Francisco Chronicle’s SFGate.com page took 3.39 seconds to become navigable with ads enabled, and 1.63 seconds without. (I rebooted between tests, to eliminate caching issues.) The amount of memory that page required shrank by about a third. Opera measured the time from when it began to load to when all the ads were finished: 8.74 seconds. Without ads, the same page loaded in 3.18 seconds, or about 63 percent faster.

Web page load times depend on a number of factors: the speed of the network connection, the size of the page, the number and complexity of ads. But the overall conclusion was inescapable: Blocking ads dramatically accelerates Web surfing.  

As for compatibility: Opera worked flawlessly with the ads turned off—except, for some reason, on PCWorld.com, where the page became unresponsive.

An ad-free Web?

It should be obvious, but let’s disclose it anyway: Browsing sites like PCWorld.com while blocking ads prevents that site from receiving ad money that would pay for the site and its content. (Full disclosure: IDG, the parent company of PCWorld, is running tests on Greenbot.com, where users who are running an ad blocker will receive messages asking them to turn it off to support the site. Other sites have simply refused to serve content to users who use ad blockers.)

“We understand ads are important for the Internet and without them many services could not exist—we’re not against that,” Kolondra said. “On the contrary. But we simply don’t think ads/trackers should slow down the online experience so much. Today users see when there’s a bad ad on a page —when it covers some part of the page, blocking navigation or requires you to close it. But it’s hard for users to know how much did the ads affected the page loading.”

Ad blocking has sounded alarm bells around the Web, where a PageFair/Adobe report found that ad blocking grew by 48 percent inside the United States during the first quarter of 2015, to about 16 percent of the U.S. online population. (PageFair estimates that 20 percent of all worldwide browser users, or about 144 million users, block ads.)

 

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