Stick it to those pop-up windows

May 28, 2001|By MIKE HIMOWITZ

Once upon a time, advertising was going to be the engine that drove the Internet economy. But somewhere along the line, the car broke down.

The Web, it turned out, was not an advertisers' Valhalla. A computer screen doesn't have all that much room available. And banner ads - the fancy, animated pitches that appear at the top of most commercial Web sites - have proved to be remarkably bad at attracting surfers to sponsors' Web sites.

With the dot-com bust, advertisers and Web site operators are now desperate for gimmicks that will get your attention. And they don't mind driving you nuts in the process. The result: the pop-up ad windows that clutter your screen when you log on to many commercial Web sites - and often linger when you leave for another destination.

The worst pop-ups won't even let you close them by clicking on the "X" in the upper right corner of the window. The very act of leaving the window often generates another pop-up. Some advertisers limit the repeats, but others trap you till you restart your computer.

But help is available. If you're using Internet Explorer 5 or later, you can block these annoying adds with a free program called Pop-up Stopper from Panicware (

When activated, Pop-up Stopper blocks the command that allows your Web browser to open a second window but has no effect on normal browsing. To see how well it's working, you can set it to chirp whenever it blocks a pop-up window or to flash an icon in your system tray.

Just remember that not all the pop-ups the program intercepts are bad. Some Web sites routinely open a new window when you click on a legitimate link - for example, to display an enlarged view or specific information about an item you're considering buying. And sometimes, you may want to open a second browser window by clicking the Internet Explorer icon on your desktop.

Pop-up Stopper blocks these good guys, too, but there's an escape hatch: Hold the Control key and Pop-up Stopper will allow a new window to open. If you find a site that relies on legitimate pop-ups, two mouse clicks will disable Pop-up Stopper altogether. So, altogether, this is a useful program that can put a stop to one of life's little annoyances. Panicware also makes a nifty, $20 utility that will clean out your cookies, browser cache and other detritus that you'd rather keep private.

Surfers who want as few distractions as possible and are willing to pay a small price for the privilege should check out WebWasher, the $29, single-user version of a program that large companies use to block banner ads, animations, pop-up windows and other bandwidth eaters.

At the enterprise level, WebWasher also blocks access to porn sites and other objectionable content based on a central database of banned material. The single-user version allows you to enter addresses, or fractions of addresses in a local database of banned sites to keep your kids out of trouble (for example, you can ban any site with the word "sex" in its address). But dedicated filtering programs are better at this; what WebWasher does best is block out ads without affecting content.

Since these graphics account for a large proportion of the data transmitted from the average commercial Web site, the program can speed up browsing over a dialup connection considerably. It's particularly useful now that many sites are beginning to place large ads in the middle of their content pages. You can download a free, 30-day trial copy at

Speaking of annoying Web tricks, frames have always been one of my pet peeves. This device allows a Web site operator to call another page when you click on a link but "capture" it in a frame that not only wastes screen space, but also keeps your browser under the control of the original site. With a frame, a Web master can link to another site's content while displaying his own ads in the originating frame. At best, this is bad form; at worst, it's a copyright violation. A frame can also make it difficult to find the true address of a page in order to add it to your Favorites or Bookmarks.

Once again, not all frames are bad. A designer may create a Web site using frames to make it easier to display a scrolling menu on one side of the screen, or keep a standing advertisement visible at all times. But if the frame is big enough, you'll see a lot less of the page you actually want to view, which means you spend more time scrolling.

With most versions of Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator, you can foil the frame-keepers by right-clicking on a blank spot on the framed page and choosing "Open Frame In New Window" from the menu that appears. The page will open as its designer intended, with the frame gone.

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