Do customers a favour: Squeeze images

Those of us in high tech tend to forget that the web is a different experience for the average Joe sitting behind a 56Kbit/s modem.

          Those of us in high tech tend to forget that the web is a different experience for the average Joe sitting behind a 56Kbit/s modem. The only time we suffer that indignation is when we're on the road, but even that is becoming less frequent now that hotels are adding Ethernet ports.

          The bane of speed for most commercial websites is, of course, images. Those big, fat JPEGs and GIFs slow downloads to a crawl. While DSL and cable modems will ultimately let the masses speed through your site, broadband penetration is still woefully low - 10% by some calculations.

          I ran into a new company at the recent Gartner Symposium in Orlando that has an interesting compression algorithm that may help. Airzip says its technology can reduce JPEGs by 45% and GIFs by up to 86%.

          The heart of the system is a $US5000 software compression engine that plugs into Microsoft's Internet Information Server (versions for Apache, IBM's Websphere and BEA Systems's Weblogic will be available early next year). Complementing that is a 250Kbyte decompression client users download for free.

          Part of the beauty of the system is that it is transparent. Web content is stored as usual and when an Airzip client calls for it, the images are converted on the fly to what the company calls AZV and hurried along.

          As an example of how this might help companies, director of product marketing Doug Keiller says a large grocer retailer in Europe is considering using the product because a 250Kbyte web page that takes 30 seconds to download using a 56Kbit/s modem can be squeezed down to 80Kbytes and delivered in 10 seconds. Twenty seconds doesn't sound like a lot to save, but when a customer has to slog through multiple pages to shop, it adds up quickly.

          You can see the technology at work by checking out a demo. The demo button downloads the client and then lets you access different types of images, including samples of X-rays, security pictures (fingerprints, mug shots and camera images), and field force automation tools such as maps and schematics.

          Keller says the technology will be particularly compelling where the client doing the calling is a handheld - phone or PDA - on the other end of a slow wireless link.

          To get the customer experience, get off that fat pipe at work and try it using a modem. Impressive. Anything that can speed image delivery has to be viewed as a win by customers.

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Tags image compression

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