Google releases controversial web accelerator

After hearing about Google’s new WebAccelerator utility and giving it a spin, I was ready to blog about it today.

The program, which requires Windows 2000 or XP and works with Internet Explorer and Firefox as well as other browsers by manual proxy settings, purports to speed up your browsing by routing Web page access through Google’s servers. The theory is that Google’s servers will usually be faster than whatever site you’re accessing.

However, this means that when WebAccelerator is running, Google can see everything you are browsing. To be fair, the installer does warn you of this, and you can add a list of sites which will bypass Google’s servers, or simply turn off the accelerator when you don’t want to use it.

It gets worse, though – it seems WebAccelerator isn’t smart enough not to cache pages that require a login. That means that you could visit a forum and be automatically logged in as someone else, for example. This has webmasters up in arms, and many sites are scrambling to block WebAccelerator users. Rich Kyanka at SomethingAwful.com is one of those affected.

Personally, I don’t blame Google for releasing WebAccelerator – it’s still in beta, so it’s up to users to decide whether they should take the risk in trying something that may not be quite ready for prime time. I don’t believe that Google have a sinister plan to build a history of user’s Web activity either, as some have suggested.

I have discontinued use of WebAccelerator, though, as I haven’t noticed a dramatic speed improvement. Similar results could be achieved by using the proxy server of your ISP – Google isn’t doing anything particularly new. What I would like to see is something like EarthLink Accelerator which compresses pages before sending them to the user. I would be interested to see how popular Google WebAccelerator becomes in the light of all this bad publicity.

You can read more over at Inside Google or at these digg stories.

Update: Now it seems that GWA is wreaking havoc with web apps.

View the world with NASA

NASA’s free World Wind software lets you zoom from satellite altitude into any place on Earth. Data from various satellites lets you experience Earth terrain in visually rich 3D, just as if you were really there. You can visit any place in the world, from your home town to the Grand Canyon, via the Alps and the African Sahara.

The software weighs in at a hefty 180MB (and more, it downloads a lot of its image data on the fly) and is available via HTTP and BitTorrent – possibly the US Government’s first use of the controversial technology.

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Some guitar stuff

Here are tabs & chords for some of the songs I enjoy playing. I’m a novice guitar player, so most of these should be relatively easy to play. They’re provided by Ultimate Guitar, my favourite tabs/chords site.

Avril Lavigne – I’m With You
B*Witched – Blame It On The Weatherman
Bob Dylan – Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
Damien Rice – Cannonball
Green Day – Boulevard Of Broken Dreams (Acoustic)
Goo Goo Dolls – Iris
Guns ‘n’ Roses – Patience
McFly – She Left Me
Oasis – Songbird
REM – Everybody Hurts
Rufus Wainwright – Hallelujah
Starsailor – Alcoholic
Stereophonics – Just Looking

Enjoy!

Amazon.com introduces new design

I use Firefox for all of my day-to-day browsing, but today I loaded up Amazon.com in Internet Explorer and got a shock – the site looks completely different! The top navigation bar has had a major redesign, and now sports only two tabs – ‘[your name]‘s Store’ and ‘View all 31 product categories’.

According to SearchViews, the new design is available to all IE and Firefox users. For some reason, I’m seeing the old design in Firefox, but I’ll put this down to a minor teething problem rather than deliberate discrimination against users of non-IE browsers, as friends with Firefox are getting the new page design.

Note that Amazon’s international sites are not affected – presumably there is less of a need to redesign because there are fewer categories to clutter up the interface.

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Online “20 Questions”

20Q.net is an online version of 20 Questions. Think of an object (animal, vegetable, mineral or other) and the site will try to guess what you’re thinking of in 20 questions or less. Some of the questions it asks are a bit silly, but generally it works quite well.

Another AI-based quiz is Guess The Dictator or Sit-Com Character. It usually guesses correctly but struggles on non-US TV characters.

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Computer-generated web design

If you’re designing a website and you’re stuck for ideas, try StrangeBanana. It randomly generates a page layout complete with menu bar, which you can copy and use for free. Every time you refresh the page, a new design is created which has never been seen before.

It’s fun to play with, but some of the designs aren’t that nice to look at, and they’re all really just variations on a theme. I probably wouldn’t copy a StrangeBanana design verbatim, but I’d use the site as a tool for inspiring my own designs.

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Offline NT Password & Registry Editor

This Linux-based tool, available as a bootable floppy or CD image, can recover user and administrator passwords on Windows NT, 2000, XP and Server 2003 machines. It might look scary, but it greets you with a Douglas Adams-esque “DON’T PANIC” and explains that the default options are OK in most cases (i.e. just keep hitting Enter).

I’ve just tried this and it works remarkably well. It might just save you from reinstalling Windows one day. Of course, it has less legitimate uses, but if you lack good physical security, you have a lot more to worry about (people stealing your machine, for example).

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