An unlikely ad blocker

I’ve started using the Firefox plugin YesScript as an ad blocker even though being an ad blocker may not be that plugin’s main purpose.

YesScript will let you mark specific websites. YesScript will then tell the browser that the next time it loads something from those sites, it must skip the JavaScript programs belonging to that page.

What happened was that certain websites would make my PC wheeze like an old man with a life long history of smoking. Apparently my PC’s fan was getting old and had stopped running smoothly. Although I noticed this with all kinds of software, the main culprit was Firefox, and the wheezing would always be the worst when I visited a click-baity website.

If you look at a small selection of the files a site like Mashable pushes to my computer every time I read one of their stories (see the screenshot below), you can easily see why my PC would have trouble coping. Most of the files you see listed are for the benefit of ad networks. Look at the scroll bar to the right; this is just a fraction of the files that are loaded. Most of the files that you don’t see here are also loaded for the benefit of ad networks.

[Screenshot displaying a list of files from Mashable]

I measured it: without YesScript, a single Mashable page sends 294 files to my browser. Those files take up 2.9 megabytes of bandwidth and take 49 seconds to load and render. With YesScript running, those numbers dwindle to 14 files, 0.1 megabyte and 7 seconds. I can actually finish looking at a cat photo while you are still loading the page.

Why don’t I use a real ad blocker? It’s simply because I initially identified my problem as a technical one—too much JavaScript—and so the solution I chose was also a technical one—block all JavaScript. Ad blockers work by banning all files coming from known ad networks and should be just as effective.

YesScript has a minor advantage in this respect, in that it leaves ads alone that play nice (read: that are strictly text or image based). It also blocks all those annoying “6 misogynist articles you might also like to read” banners.

But the plug-in’s disadvantages compared to ad blockers are probably greater. Obviously whatever useful JavaScript a page is running—for instance, scripts necessary to let you comment—are also blocked. I can live with that, but I imagine others cannot.

If you are wondering if YesScript is for you, let me ask you first: is the reason you want to run it because you want to block ads? If yes, go for an ad blocker. If you do end up using YesScript, you will find it is incredibly simple to use. The plug-in adds a button to one of your toolbars. If a page is playing havoc with your browser, click the button and reload the page. That’s it. If you want to run scripts on that domain again, click the button a second time and reload the page.

(Why don’t mobile phones seem to be afflicted as much by bad Javascript? After all, they tend to be a lot less powerful than your PC but will display clickbait just fine … ish. This I honestly don’t know. It may be because a lot of websites send adapted pages to mobile devices that are easier to load.)

Control multiple PCs at once

Synergy

Synergy is a small cross-platform tool that lets you share keyboard and mouse between several systems. How is that relevant, you ask? Well, I was looking into a dual monitor set-up, because I liked working with one at a customer’s. Somebody pointed me to Multiplicity, a Synergy-like tool, which unfortunately only works on Windows.

With Synergy though, I can attach my keyboard and mouse to both the iBook and the Windows-PC at once. This set-up lets me use the Mac as a second screen, sort of. My work involves just looking at a lot of things, whether is reading manuals and specifications on the web, or previewing the web page I am coding in a browser. I can do these on a second computer, sharing mouse and keyboard between them. Synergy lets me do these things in a manner that barely differs from using two screens for the same PC.

Of course this means I need to have two computers on at the same time, but that was already a bit of reality here, as I use my Mac as a sort of business diary.

If I am so happy about Synergy, why am I only giving it five out of ten points? The score reflects that the program still has to improve a lot, albeit mainly on small points. At the moment you have to configure, then start it, and if you want to autostart it, you have to set that up manually too. And autostarting works by no means perfect either, if the documentation is to be believed. I hope Synergy will develop into something that upon installation will autoconfigure itself, that will start looking for other computers on the network, and if they’re new, will interogate you about them. Autostart should be the default.

I may still get that second monitor, simply because the settings of my two PCs vary too wildly.

My rating: 2.5 stars
**1/2

(This review was written using Andrew Scott’s hReview plug-in.)