By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 1999, The Syracuse Newspapers
Most ways of speeding up your Internet connection are tricky. They might not work right or they could mess up your PC forever.
What if I told you I know a foolproof way to speed things up? And I mean REALLY foolproof.
A way that works with any kind of connection -- dialup, cable modem, direct T1 line, even AOL. A way that costs you nothing. A way that cannot possibly interfere with your other programs.
Sound too good to be true? That's what I thought, too. But after many weeks of using FastNet99, a free Windows program, I'm a believer. FastNet99 even wins points in another area, too -- it's easy to use.
FastNet99 was written by Italian programmer Giuseppe Criaco, who describes himself as a believer in "freeware software." You can learn more about FastNet99 at http://members.xoom.com/gcriaco/. You can get FastNet99 from a faster site here: ftp://ftp.zdnet.nis.newscorp.com/pub/private/sWlIB/internet/internet_tools/fastnet.zip.
FastNet99 runs under Windows 95 and Windows 98. What it does can be explained simply: FastNet99 creates a list of Internet sites and matches them to their actual addresses. Normally, your Web browser has to wait to get the real address before it can go to a site, and this can take a while. If it already has the actual address, the browser can open Web pages very quickly.
If this seems mysterious, take a minute to hear a more detailed explanation. All sites on the Internet have addresses. They're like street addresses, except that Internet addresses are always written as numbers. They're called IP numbers. (Think of them as Internet Postal numbers and you'd almost be right. They're Internet Protocol numbers.) You can't get to a site on the Internet unless you have the right address, just like you can't send a package to Aunt Ethel unless you tell the parcel service where to take it.
So if all sites have numbered addresses, how come all of us don't go around saying things like, "Hey, I went to the 345889023 site last night! What a blast!" Or, "Wow, 88234003 has a lot of free downloads!" We don't do that because we use aliases for these numbers. We use words instead, and the computer is left with the task of translating those words into numbers, into their real addresses.
We use addresses like "microsoft.com" and "altavista.com" -- what we call the names of domains -- when we want to go to a Web site. Somebody has to do a translation in a hurry, so your browser sends out an urgent request for a conversion. Sites that do just that are all over the place, and they specialize in changing the names of domains into numbered IP addresses. (These sites are called Domain Name Servers.)
Make sense so far? What I'm saying is that getting onto a Web site normally is a four-step process. Step 1: You tell your browser to go to www.abc.com, but it literally cannot do that. Step 2: It asks another site, called a DNS server, to translate the www.abc.com into the IP number. Step 3: The DNS site sends the real address back to your computer. Step 4: Your computer takes that address and sends it back out onto the Internet and waits for the Web site to respond.
Whew! Any time you can cut out two of those steps you're guaranteed to get things done faster. And that's what FastNet99 does. It looks at all your Favorites and Bookmarks and sends out DNS requests for all of them during a quiet time (while you're having dinner, maybe). It then stores the list of names and real addresses in a standard "hosts" file. (Windows knows how to use the "hosts" file already, so FastNet99 doesn't need to do any fancy footwork there.) Then its work is done. FastNet99 doesn't need to be running when you're on the Web.
How much faster do pages come up from sites that are listed in the "hosts" file? Twice as fast, maybe three times as fast. Sites that aren't listed aren't speeded up, of course, so the best way to use FastNet99 is to keep a LOT of Favorites or Bookmarks and have FastNet99 translate all of them once a week. My list has 1,400 names so far, and it's growing. (There's a practical limit to the size of the "hosts" list, but you're not likely to hit it.)