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Browsing on a (data) budget? Opera!

I’m abroad and very much limited to what I can choose with regards to data plans (for which I’m trying to get PAYG (pay as you go), not a contract as I’m not staying here!). The best solution I’ve found so far is to find myself a Vodafone sim card and insert it into my phone – they offer “unlimited” (well, as unlimited as they want to give I suppose) internet as long as I don’t use over “10 times” more than the average user.. I’ve looked for dongles, and it’s just a huge money game at the moment here. Either they’re so very far behind the UK’s mobile technology, or simply care more about money than user experience (I am legitimately curious actually, it could be either or!). So now that I’m in this position, I thought I’d sacrifice a little of my data to try and help others in my position!

[Note: Due to my data plan, images are currently unavailable.]

So you’re not at home and needing internet on the move. There are some really nice solutions (especially in the UK) to the problem at hand. Most will either have a) a dongle or b) a data package on their smart phone which can be shared for use on your computer (what I’m doing – but please check first that the provider will allow this, as often they don’t! And if you’re on a contract, it’ll be very expensive).

The simple solution for most is to get a dongle, since it’s basically plug and play. There are a multitude of providers and data plans available both on contract and PAYG. Some offer less than 400MB of data (3 web pages on average is about 1MB, so do the math) while others offer as much as 15GB (15,000MB) or more and the costs vary significantly. If you’re on a small data budget and still wanting to extract as much use out of the plan as possible without paying extra for the larger data options then perhaps my following advice may be helpful..

Disable Automatic Updates


Automatic updates, especially on Windows, can be huge.. and if they start downloading while you’re on your limited data plan, then you can wave good-bye to saving your money.. your data will vanish!

However, I’m not simply talking about Operating System updates, every program you use (well, almost) has a setting to look for updates at regular intervals or whenever it detects an internet connection. Browsers, Office, Adobe, Antivirus/Antispyware etc etc. What you should do is try to find settings for the programs you do use on a regular basis, and suspend updates for the period of time you’ll be using your data plan.

To limit Windows Automatic updates in XP do the following:

  1. Open Start and Select Control Panel
  2. Select “System and Security”
  3. Under “Windows Update” select the link “Turn automatic updating on or off”
  4. Select either “Notify me but do not automatically download or install them” or “Turn off Automatic Updates” from the drop down – Either work, though the former will still check, just not download.

To limit Windows Automatic updates in Win7 do the following:

  1. Open Start and Select Control Panel
  2. Select “Security Centre”
  3. At the bottom of the new window, under “Manage Security Settings For” select the “Automatic Updates” link.
  4. Select either “Notify me but do not automatically download or install them” or “Turn off Automatic Updates” – Either work, though the former will still check, just not download.

Also, I chose to leave my avast! Antivirus updating, especially since your computer is in direct line of malicious attacks when connected directly to the internet, as apposed to being behind a router/firewall on an internal network. This means if the Antivirus is not updating it’s definitions, attacks on your system could occur (A little data could save you a lot of hassle).

Disable programs which use data


Next point then is to disable the programs you usually have running in the background. Unless you actively wish to have these programs running there’s really little point, as they’ll once again use up your data..

Windows Messenger? Skype?* uTorrent?*

Just a few programs commonly associated for starting up with Windows which use the internet, you’ll be able to see which programs you have running by viewing the task bar on the bottom right of your screen. If these programs (or others) are running, open them, go to (usually) Tools>Settings and disable “Start with [Your Operating System]”.

*Skype and uTorrent are a few programs that will suck your data dry. Unless you are on an unlimited plan it’s advised to avoid using these programs. uTorrent and other BitTorrent clients used for downloading files will eat through your data usage very quickly if you forget to exit the application as naturally when you’re downloading, that’s contributing to your data use.
As for Skype, VoIP is a data-hog. Especially Skype uses a lot of data for making and receiving calls so should be avoided while on a limited data plan.

Download Opera


Opera may not be very well known, and I for one usually wouldn’t need to go near it with a 10′ pole since Chrome and FireFox both do literally everything I could want them to. However Opera are very well known when it comes to Windows Mobile (and other platforms which will run Opera Mini – I’ve mentioned them in other posts – Go to m.opera.com on your mobile ) and have taken their knowledge of the mobile platforms to the computer market by integrating a tool called Opera Turbo into their desktop browser. This tool basically sends all data to their servers to be compressed and re-encoded using up to 83% less data than a page would usually use! Yes, images are a little pixelated (but still viewable) and the service can be a little slow, but instead of 1MB per 3 web pages, you are now only using 0.3MB per 3 web pages. That is a big difference, and can help to make your data last a lot longer.

By no means is it perfect, but it’s good enough to use, and if you’re really not wanting to waste your data plan – this is the program for you.

A lot of add ons are partially disabled to save cost, such as flash and java, but any page that features a flash banner or otherwise will be replaced by a |> sign (or arrow) which once clicked will activate the plugin.

In other aspects, Opera 10 Beta has really improved it’s user experience and graphic interface. It looks a little “Chromey” in some respects, which I very much like – and it’s quite fast. You’re not losing out by switching to this browser while using your mobile internet.

Download opera from this page and try it out, you may be surprised!

Avoid data intensive browsing!


It should be obvious, but avoid websites like youtube.com and sites that stream any form of music or video, as these are very heavy on data! Not only that, but don’t download large files/programs or anything else that is not necessary.

Keep track of what you use:


Wanting to keep an eye on the data you’re using? Why not check out AnalogX’s NetStat Live which will enable you to view exactly what you’re using and when you’re using it. And it’s free!

Hopefully that will help others in my situation, if you have more to add or any alternatives that will help save the amount of data used when browsing – let me know! Comments are always open.