Internet Basics: Common Web Browsing Problems And How To Fix Or Avoid Them

Are you getting the most out of your browser? Some simple tips might make your surfing a lot more fun.

Web browsing is a fairly ubiquitous part of life now. We use the web in everyday ways that twenty years ago would have been unthinkable - to do things like read wedding announcements, view movie times, buy concert tickets, read how-to information, and send greeting cards. But if your computer isn't the fastest, or if you're using a dial-up connection, web browsing can be fairly tedious. Also, there are a variety of common ailments - many of them easily solved - that can make any web encounter a painful one. Hopefully this article will help you treat your browsing ills and get you surfing with the maximum possible enjoyment.

Obviously, these tips aren't going to be appropriate for everyone. There are many browsers on the market, each with its own weaknesses and idiosyncrasies. And of course we have no idea what kind of computer and operating system you're currently using. However, we'll try to make this guide as universal as possible. Some of these tips should at least give you an idea about potential solutions. You can then take those ideas to a knowledgeable friend or to a search engine like Google.com.

1. How do I stop these danged pop-up advertisements?

There are three kinds of pop-up ads that you'll see when surfing: (1) ads from the site you're surfing, (2) ads from your ISP, and (3) ads being generated by "spyware," or software installed on your computer specifically to pester you with ads. All three are repellent, and all three can be mitigated if not stopped entirely.

Type 1 and 2 pop-ups - the most common kind - generally can be prevented by special programs called "pop-up blocker" software. You can find many free ones at shareware.com. Occasionally one or two Type 1 pop-ups will sneak by, but a decent blocker will stop most of them from ever appearing. They can also be temporarily disabled so you can see ads and pop-ups that you actually want to see.

Newer browsers and browser-modification programs improve the surfing experience with streamlined interfaces (see questions 5 and 6, for example) and built-in pop-up blockers. Some of the popular alternative browsers include Avant, Netscape Navigator, and Mozilla Firefox. Take a little time to see what they offer.

Some ISPs like NetZero and Juno offer free internet service, but plague you with Type 2 pop-ups while you browse. It's hard to tell these ads from Type 1 pop-ups, but fortunately, a good pop-up blocker will squash these just as effectively as Type 1 ads.

Beware of ads that look like dialog boxes, too. Sometimes you'll see a pop-up ad that's deviously designed just like a Windows dialog box with a tempting message like "Internet connection problem detected. Repair now?" Clicking on the ad will take you to a sales pitch or pop up a half dozen new ad windows.

How can you tell a fake dialog box from a pop-up ad? The pop-ups are really just small browser windows - which means they have a second browser window border around the Windows dialog. Look closely - there's another title bar above the blue Windows title bar at the top of the message.

Type 3 pop-ups are the hardest to eliminate. Spyware comes in many forms, and can be notoriously difficult to remove. Spyware is unwanted software that usually hides on your computer and displays advertising on your screen. Some spyware keeps tabs on your activity for use by advertisers. Others are somewhat useful, like browser search bars, but they take up screen space and display distracting ads.



Usually the spyware gets installed along with some piece of free and amusing software you stumbled across when websurfing. In other words, you often end up installing advertising spyware because you responded to a free come-on advertisement. The spyware is like a pork-barrel rider to legislation in Congress - it's tacked on the back of something you want, and because you didn't read the fine print, you paid the price. There are a lot of wonderful, no-strings programs on the web, but if you didn't specifically seek it out, make sure you know what you're getting, and from whom!

Fortunately, there are some good free programs to remove spyware from your computer. Once again, go to shareware.com and search for the word "spyware." Look at the ratings to figure out which ones are the most respected.

If the spyware remover fails to solve your problem, your best bet is to find out any unique information about the spyware program you're suffering from and track it down with a web search. Does the spyware identify itself with a name on the title bar of the pop-up ads? Are there certain ads that it runs all the time? Take this information to google.com and type it into the search window along with the word "spyware" (no quotes). This should lead you to a page where your arch nemesis spyware is foiled.

2. My web surfing is too slow.

This is a common complaint - and a nebulous one. The problem could be anything: your computer's hard drive speed, your internet connection, your modem, your network, or even your own impatience!

One of the first things to do is go to numion.com and run their internet connection speed test. Compare your computer's performance with the expected performance for your type of connection. If you're using dial-up, your connection will always be slower than broadband; that's just a fact of life.

Next, make sure your computer is in tip-top shape for browsing.

Your computer's processor may just be too slow for fast browsing - for example, anything slower than a Pentium II will struggle to run the latest software and operating systems. Memory (also called "RAM") is another critical component. Go to shareware.com and search for "memory optimizer". A memory optimizer program will help you monitor your memory usage and, in some cases, improve it without having to buy more memory. Many of these programs are free for individual users.

A computer virus can put a severe hit on your computer's speed. Make sure your antivirus software is up to date, and run a complete scan of your computer overnight.

Spyware can also be a cause of slowdowns - see question 1.

Lastly, tune up your browser by emptying its "cache." This is a collection of information your browser collects from web pages that you've visited. This makes browsing faster because on subsequent visits to those pages, some information can be read off the hard drive, which is speedier than reading it over the web. The problem comes when too many files are collected in the cache, which can clutter up your hard disk. For most browsers, the cache is cleared by going to the Tools menu, choosing Internet Options, and then clicking "Delete Files" under Temporary Internet Files.

There are certainly more ailments that can cause problems, but this basic list should solve the normal complaints. If this doesn't help, try asking a tech-savvy friend to diagnose your slowdown.

5. How come I can't open more windows? How can I browse more quickly? How do I stop my browser from switching windows on me when I'm trying to read?

One of the best ways to accelerate your browsing is to open more windows at the same time. You can open a new window from the File menu or open a link in a new window by right-clicking (or clicking-and-holding, for Mac users) on the link.

For example, if you want to read about bicycling, ladybugs, and Boeing 747s, you can open the biking page, wait for it to load, and then open the other pages. Then you can switch back to biking and read that page while the other pages are loading in the background.

The problem with this strategy is that some browsers - especially Microsoft Internet Explorer - automatically switch you to a background page when it is finished loading. The workaround is to install a browser modification like Avant or an alternative "tabbed" browser. See question 1 for more information.

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