Internet access on the Mac has been getting a lot of bad reports, since it is slightly slower opening a page on the Mac than opening the same page on a PC. Choosing a good Internet connection is key to getting pages to load quickly on your Mac.
A lot of people still use dialup connections, and that’s fine. But if you have an older Mac, it probably came with an older modem. Even upgrading your 28.8 or 33.6 modem to 56k may greatly improve page loading times, but it depends what type of machine you have in order to know whether it is worth upgrading to a faster modem. If you’ve got anything with a processor slower than 200 MHz, you may not notice much of a difference. [Editor’s note: You may notice a difference even on something as old as a Quadra.]
But there is another option for those who have it in their area – a high speed connection. There are two basic types that are commonly offered: DSL and cable modems. While both offer high speed downloads, DSL tends to offer slower uploads. Some DSL providers also require you to install software on your computer, which may or may not be compatible with Mac OS X. Be sure you check with your local provider to make sure your machine is compatible before signing up for service.
The only thing you need to use a high speed connection on your Mac is an ethernet port, and most Macs have them built in already. If yours doesn’t, PCI ethernet cards are available in most computer stores – just make sure the one you pick out has Mac drivers.
There are also several different browsers you can use instead of the default Internet Explorer. I have found that I really like OmniWeb, from the Omni Group. It is extremely fast, has a very nice interface that goes well with the Mac OS X Aqua scheme, and has an easy to customize Bookmarks drawer, which I find easier than IE’s “folder” for bookmarks. OmniWeb gives you the option to block common banner, skyscraper, and other ad sizes. However, sometimes other images can have these proportions, and OmniWeb will block them, too.
You might also try iCab. Another one of the “fast browsers”, iCab works under Mac OS versions from the 7.x range all the way up to 10.1.5. With some nice features – like an option to block images from specific servers and a kiosk mode that lets you hide everything but the browser and requires a password to get back to your desktop – iCab has found many users.
Mozilla or Netscape is another option. Pages load very quickly, but the browser’s interface is clumsy, slow, and very different from Internet Explorer, OmniWeb, iCab, or the old Netscape 4.x. One nice feature is that you can block the terribly annoying popup ads with just one check of “Don’t open unrequested windows.” It seems to work very well.
However, I find that I really prefer the old Netscape, 4.x when using Mac OS 9. The reasons? It’s small, relatively quick, and has an interface that I like. You can still download Netscape 4.08 and 4.7 at http://sillydog.org/narchive/
Update: Mozilla dropped support for the Classic Mac OS in 2002. Classilla is a port of Mozilla specifically for PowerPC Macs running Mac OS 8.6 and 9.x. The Classilla project has been ongoing since May 2009, and starting with version 9.3, it presents itself as a mobile client, which should speed page loads.
If you do decide to upgrade to a broadband connection, there are a couple tools that can optimize your Internet experience. First of all, if you use OS X, you might download BroadbandOptimizer. It changes some network settings so that your Mac OS X computer can load websites and download files more quickly, although your mileage may vary. [BroadbandOptimizer was last updated in December 2003 and requires Mac OS X 10.3 Panther or later.]
Speed Download helps your downloads happen a little faster if you are running Mac OS 8.6 or later. It works with a variety of browsers and claims to be five times faster than using the browser’s built-in download application. [Yazsoft has gone out of business and Speed Download is no longer available for purchase.]
Please note that I haven’t verified the claims written by the developers of these applications.
There are a lot of choices to make when using the Internet – what connection type to get, what browser to use, and what type of tweaks to perform. Hopefully this article helps you understand a few of the many options that you have.