Saturday, October 24, 2015


The Web is Gummed Up

 This is a sad story to write, but it's been percolating in the back of my mind for months if not years: The World Wide Web is gummed up with crap. This realization came into sharp focus today when I visited some media sites like and my CPU utilization when up to 100% and stayed there. Exactly why firefox was using so much CPU was a bit of a mystery. I had autoplay in firefox turned off, and there didn't appear to be any reason why the CPU should be maxed out.

   Looking at my processes I could see that firefox was using about 65% of the cpu, and X was using the other 35%. There was a banner ad at the top of the screen, and a few other ads were also present. All the images appeared static so there was no apparent reason why the CPU needed to be running at 100%. Once I exited firefox my CPU use went down to 1.5% to 3%, so there was no doubt that firefox was to blame.

   It's not unusual for firefox to hit 100% CPU usage for brief periods of time even on web pages I've designed myself but the CPU use always goes back down to around 3% after a brief period of time. This seems normal to me. Using the CBC web site made the CPU hit 100% and stay there indefinitely, or at least for as long as I felt like waiting. As an experiment I tried the dillo web browser on CBC's site, and the CPU level was about 3% although things were not rendered as nicely (it is very doubtful there are many web designers who test their sites using dillo).

   Media web sites seem to be the most problematic when it comes to firefox's use of one's CPU. In fact I've seen web sites that not only use 100% of the CPU, but also become completely unresponsive. Clearly there are design practises which are making the situation worse. When I view a web page's source sometimes it looks like an indecipherable snarl of code. To say that the code is overly elaborate would be a huge understatement. One might even say there's an amount of deliberate obfuscation going on.

   On the other hand some sites don't use a lot of CPU, blogger sites and gmail are two examples. Fortunately Google has offered a "Basic HTML" mode for older computers. It would certainly be nice if media sites also had a Basic HTML mode to fall back on.  No doubt SSL is partly to blame for the increasing slowness of the web, but what can one do about these other sites? Surely using 100% of the CPU on certain computers for long periods of time will make them over-heat or damage themselves in a worst case scenario.

   Possible solutions include using Dillo or a text based browser. While this is not ideal it seems more palatable to me now that certain media sites are so slow. It doesn't seem to be a problem on my chromebook, so that is another possible solution. Tumblr and Facebook seem ridiculously slow, although I am probably aggravating things by using older P3 systems. I have a kill script at the ready to clobber any sites which paralyze firefox.

   In any case my suggestion to web site designers is to have a Basic HTML mode for your sites. It's only fair to your users with older computers. For the rest of us we can at least turn off auto-play for videos and consider using alternative web browsers. The problem doesn't seem limited to older computers as I've seen firefox hit 100% CPU on faster systems as well. Videos should not be auto-played. One can imagine how frustrated an older computer user would be if an HD video automatically started up (paypal I am looking at you!).



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