Jan 252014

From time to time, clients ask me which browser I use, and I reply “Firefox”..

I started using Firefox just because it wasn’t the leading browser (which was Microsoft’s Internet Explorer at that time). However, there were a few substantive reasons as well – it was faster, more secure and (most relevant for this blog post), there were lots of bells and whistles you could add on to it.

Firefox is developed and made freely available by an organisation called Mozilla. This is a community of programmers who spend their own time developing Firefox. Mozilla is also responsible for the “Thunderbird” email program. Since Firefox is an open source program, outside programmers and organisations can make their “bells and whistles” (more properly known as “add-ons” and “extensions”) work nicely with the main product.

By the way, having a touch of pedantry about me, I’ve been trying to find out exactly what differentiates “add-ons” from “extensions” and can’t find an answer. This is made worse by also having things called “plug-ins” that seem to do the same thing. The important point here, though, is that there are hundreds of these goodies that you can add to Firefox. I don’t recommend installing them willy-nilly and then keeping them installed unless you find them useful, as there’s bound to be some kind of overhead in having them there. At best, they may have an un-noticeable effect on the performance of your browser. At worst, they can slow it down disastrously or even break it.

But now – at last – to the main point. I don’t like adverts on websites – in particular, the ones that blink and shout and scream at me. I spend lots of money every month with Mr Google so that he will advertise my services on Google Search pages, so I accept that I could be accused of hypocrisy in complaining about ads and even trying to block them. I prefer to think in terms of pragmatism. Anyway, when I discovered an add-on for Firefox called AdBlock Plus I was more chained to Firefox than ever, as it does exactly what it says on the tin (yes, I know that expression comes from an ad).

TfL Journey Planner Website with Ads

TfL Journey Planner with ads highlighted (by me) with red frames

AdBlock Plus will more-or-less remove all ads from most browser windows. I hardly ever encounter ads when I’m at my own main laptop. Today, however, I was updating my client database and needed some information from the highly recommended Transport for London Journey Planner. So I opened Safari on my Mac Mini, went to the TfL website, and was quite unreasonably annoyed to have ads distracting me. I decided to put in a bit of work to see if AdBlock Plus is now more widely available than just for Firefox.

TfL Journey Planner Without Ads

Aah, that’s better. Now the dog can see the rabbit.

And it is! See https://adblockplus.org. If you visit that site, it will recognise which browser you are using, so will offer to install the correct version. I notice that the Mac Safari version is a “beta” version. This means that it is developed to the point that they want a lot of people to be using it so that they can see if it works, and find any wrinkles that need ironing out. So, you install anything that is flagged as a “beta” version at your own risk. If you ever encounter a program described as being an “alpha” version then run away from it very quickly unless you are very nerdy and looking for trouble.

So, I’ve put the beta version of AdBlock Plus on the Mac Mini and we’ll see how it goes. Upon installation, it also offered to do the following:

  • Block known malware websites.
  • Remove social media buttons (Facebook “likes” etc). Most people don’t realise that these are trackers and you don’t need to click on them to give your browsing habits to Facebook.
  • Disable tracking in other ways.

I’m in favour of all of these, so I’ve turned them all on.

AdBlockPlus logoNot only is AdBlock Plus now available on Safari, but also on Chrome, Android, Opera and Internet Explorer.

I do accept that there is a debate to be had about whether it is right to block ads, since that is the source of revenue for a lot of websites. Just to toss a few ingredients into that debate:

  • Why do the ads have to have those incredibly annoying and distracting animations? Surely they put more people off than they attract?
  • There are other ways of financing things. Lots of mobile apps, for instance, offer a free, ad-supported version and an inexpensive alternative that is ad-free. I think this is a brilliant idea. You can use the free one to see if it’s an app that you really want and then pay for it to remove the rubbish if you want to. Maybe that idea isn’t easily transferrable to website financing.
  • Ads are just not appropriate on lots of websites. Are they appropriate on TfL’s Journey Planner? I was about to say “no” and then I thought about the gerzillions of posters on the tube. Would I ban those? No, I don’t think I would.

Conclusion: as long as ads are irritating and intrusive I’m going to continue to block them when I can. Good on you, AdBlock Plus.

© 2011-2019 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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