Bursting the Pop-Up Bubble
Two tools that stop popups dead in their tracks
If you were a homeowner and strangers walked through your front door
day and night, you'd be a bit perturbed. Maybe perturbed is too soft a
word, but using obscene language is not my style.
Popups are like those strangers. These browser windows that seem to come
out of nowhere are just as much an invasion of our privacy. They disrupt
our computing experience and gobble up our precious RAM with sleazy sales
pitches. Like spam, popups destroy what should be a wonderful computing
I lived with popups for too long, methodically shutting down window after
window—that I never opened in the first place! And if my best girl
used my computer, why there'd be a dozen come-ons I'd have to double-click
So I was mighty glad when STOPzilla gave me a call and asked me to review
their pop-up blocker. It didn't take but two seconds for me to start the
STOPzilla claims its edge is preventing the popups that arise out of
adware and spyware. Heck, I don't care where they come from, as long as
they go away.
STOPzilla, an International Software Systems Solutions
Installation was a simple download (they're almost all simple these days,
especially the adware and spyware) and the keying in of a typically complex
and unmemorable license key (write it down somewhere!).
STOPzilla has three main user-interface elements. The intro screen pops
up (isn't that ironic) upon startup and also roars for some reason. I
actually find this sound as soothing as an old 9600 baud modem making
a connection. It sounds like something good is happening. It sounds like
Then there is a small window that shows the URLs of the blocked popups.
And everytime a popup is stopped, the computer makes a nice little noise—just
to remind you of all the annoyance you're missing. You can use this screen
to allow select URLs to make it through the blocker.
The main window is for configuration, and it's about as simple as a Playstation
game. You can set it to either allow or block. This way, if you are on
a site with lots of popups you actually want, they can be let through
I had one issue with dysfunctional Windows Media Player videos from MSNBC.com,
but it wasn't STOPzilla's fault. A simple video player upgrade solved
the problem. I did eventually run into problems with MSN radio, but that
is a small price to pay for no more popups.
Well, almost no more. In over two months, only three popups made it past
the STOPzilla barrier. Sweet.
I was pretty pumped over this tool. 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.
So STOPzilla went back to Allow, and I downloaded Google, 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 is the 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 test this theory, 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. STOPzilla works, is easy to set
to allow all popups, or through the blacklist, to allow specific popups.
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.
Doug Barney is editor in chief of Redmond magazine and the VP, editorial director of Redmond Media Group.