Another thing I like to have setup in my browsers is ad-blocking.
I don’t really mind advertisements on web pages as my brain is now pretty much programmed to ignore them after 20 years of web browsing (that’s the entire time web adverts have been about I think!). But obtrusive popups and the like I detest.
I also find many sites so clogged full of utter rubbish adverts that the page does not load – the contents not usually worth waiting for anyway but it does take a while for your browser to sort it all out sometimes.
I don’t mind websites making money from adverts but it is now the case that end users/potential customers need some kind of control over them.
And that’s where uBlock origin, a Firefox add-on, is very useful, if not essential.
This add-on could be described as a ‘browser firewall’ but in many users eyes that implies it is complicated to use, gets in the way and/or slows things down – none of those assumptions is true. uBlock Origin is very easy to use, is fast and does not slow web pages down – in fact it speeds them up – and is so unobtrusive you forget it’s there.
uBlock Origin can be added from the Firefox store. Here’s the direct link: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-GB/firefox/addon/ublock-origin/?src=search
Don’t get confused with Ublock which was a previous version which has since been forked by the original developer into uBlock Origin. The add-on is open source and here is the github page: https://github.com/gorhill/uBlock. You may notice that it also works with the Chromium engine – So there is an add-on for Opera as well: https://addons.opera.com/en-gb/extensions/details/ublock/?display=en#main. Or you could add it to Google Chrome if you really want to use that browser (you probably know my feelings on that by now!).
And here’s the Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UBlock_Origin
uBlock Origin is simple to install and you can just leave it to do what it does without getting into the detailed settings but those settings and information on what it is doing are all there if you wish to delve in. It adds an icon to the top right of the Firefox browser with the uBlock Origin logo:
Simply put, once installed, if you load a web page you will start seeing numbers appearing over this icon – that’s showing how much crap uBlock origin is blocking. For example simply visiting the wordpress.com web site produces this: . Yep, 66 requests blocked.
You can click on the icon and it will show this by default:
In fact the number of requests went up to 72 while I was getting that image.
Clicking on the + next to the requests blocked or the domain connected produces an expanded dialog:
Up to 79 blocks now!
This interface looks a bit daunting but is really simple to understand and use.
You will see listed the third party domains that the page has requested things from. Green next to the domain indicates items were not blocked, red means all requests were blocked and yellow indicates some requests were blocked.
uBlock origin uses a range of thrid party ad blocking lists to decide what to block and what not to by default.
Notice that you also get the 1st party domain information – in this case wordpress.com which it is not blocking.
In most cases you can continue with the defaults but you can set things to how you want in great detail by using this interface. If you hover your mouse over the columns next to the domains you will notice some green and red boxes appear. So you can choose red to block that domain or green to unblock – the first column denotes settings for this site only, the second column denotes settings globally for all sites you visit.
In the above image I am hovering over the facebook.net entry which I can block by selecting red for the wordpress.com site that I am visiting. All these choices are remembered by the add-on.
The plusses and minuses in the second column denote how much is being blocked or not – one plus means between 1 and 9 requests were allowed, 2 pluses between 10 and 100 and three pluses over 100. Minuses denote what is blocked in the the same way.
You can quickly see how you can finely tune your browsing experience but be wary if you are not sure what you are doing. For example blocking fonts.googleapis.com may render the website unusable as it will be using a completely different font to what you expect or blocking facebook.net may mean a widget that the site is using for extra functionality cannot be used.
By far the most useful option is the blue on/off button:
Clicking this will unblock everything for a site. So if you visit a site that you like and support and you want to allow them to track your usage and serve up adverts so that they get revenue just visit the site and hit the blue button. This is whitelisting and you can view a list of the sites you have whitelisted within the uBlock origin settings which can be located at the gear icon in the top left of the dialog:
Goto the whitelist tab:
It’s quite fun to test this all out in realtime. You can logon to facebook and see that uBlock origin is now blcoking all the ads in amongst your normal postings, click on the blue icon and refresh and those adverts all come flooding back. (remember to switch blocking back on unless you want facebook to get even more money of course!).
As mentioned because uBlock origin is blocking all this stuff, web pages will load much quicker – this is certainly my experience. I now find that if I am on a machine without uBlock origin installed I really notice how slow some websites are.