Product Reviews

How Google Bursts the Pop-Up Bubble

Google's toolbar comes with a fairly effective pop-up killer—and it's free.

I've lived with popups for too long, methodically shutting down window after window, that it was time to take some action. I reviewed STOPzilla and was pretty pumped over this tool. (For a review of STOPzilla's toolbar, which includes a pop-up blocker, click here; or read the head-to-head review here.) That's until I talked to Keith Ward, our senior editor. Keith has had great luck with the Google toolbar, which can be configured to block popups, and it's free. Why pay $20 a year for something Google gives for free? I had to find out.

I downloaded the Google toolbar, which asked for permission to send URLs back to a central site. It promised that my privacy would be protected, so I said Okay.

At first it worked even better than STOPzilla. I never got a single popup. The only price, it seemed, was the toolbar itself, which squeezed my browser window by about a third of an inch. As much as I hate complexity and to lose space, this was an acceptable concession.

Then I noticed the screen going blank and flashing and the laptop clicking every time I moved to a new page. This was almost as aggravating as the popups. I put up with it for two popup-free weeks, then I'd had enough. I tried to reconfigure Google to not transmit the URLs, but there was no apparent way to reset the tool this way. It seemed pop-up blocking, as effective as it is, is an afterthought for the search king.

STOPzilla claims its edge on its competitors is its ability to stop popups that come from adware/spyware. The company claims that some 80 percent of all popups derive from this insidious software, which can come from downloading a simple weather-tracking tool or file-sharing client.

To put Google up to the same challenge; I downloaded AdAware 6.0 from Lavasoft and dispensed with 30 files related to spyware/adware. Based on this, one can only conclude that Google does a fine job with adware/spyware-based popups. However, Google admits that adware popups can sneak through and recommends software that removes adware.

For me, the main issue is usability. So, in the end, I stuck with STOPzilla. It works, is easy to set to allow all popups, or filter the ones I really want using a blacklist. It is unobtrusive, and has made computing more joyous.

Running pop-up blockers is a great idea, but it's not enough. Your organization should have clear guidelines about spyware. Users should not download every new tool such as Kazaa or Weatherbug—many of them hide spyware. And you should consider filtering software that weeds out these URLs. And regularly going through workstations to remove spyware is a great idea for any shop.

About the Author

Doug Barney is editor in chief of Redmond magazine and the VP, editorial director of Redmond Media Group.

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