Dubbed TranSend, the new service allows users to route their web requests through a "transformational proxy," the first of its kind, which delivers their web pages three to five times faster via a process the researchers call "distillation."
The proxy gives users slightly lower quality images but much faster access.
In addition, users benefit from the proxy's cache of frequently accessed pages, which is about 1,000 times larger than an individual user's cache.
"The shared cache allows users to avoid waiting for the Internet more than half the time," says Eric Brewer, leader of the research team and assistant professor of computer science.
Brewer and graduate students Armando Fox, Steve Gribble and Yatin Chawathe created TranSend as part of an ongoing research project.
"Our goal is to improve the quality of Internet access by making the Internet 'smarter,' rather than requiring all users to purchase faster connections," says graduate student Armando Fox.
"TranSend could easily be adopted by Internet service providers or large companies to improve Internet access for their clients or employees and also reduce the load on the already clogged World Wide Web."
"Our service benefits the students, who get the data faster, and also reduces traffic on the Internet," adds graduate student Steve Gribble.
"In fact, TranSend works not only with standard modems and PCs, but with wireless networks and PDAs (personal digital assistants) as well. In general, we adapt the data to the needs of the network and computer."
"The key to the whole thing is an architecture that allows thousands of people to use TranSend at the same time, with only a handful of computers," says graduate student and codeveloper Yatin Chawathe. Both distillation and large-scale caching are enabled by a parallel-computing architecture called NOW (Network Of Workstations), developed as part of a second Berkeley reserch project.
The developers and those who operate the campus network have been offering trial access for about two weeks, and will soon be promoting proxy use to the 25,000 campus users.
Instructions for connecting to the Berkeley proxy can be found at http://transend.cs.berkeley.edu/.
Until now, Internet users with slow modems have had two options: wait endlessly for large images to creep over the phone lines, or turn off all images and download text only.
"Most web servers are set up for people who have direct, fast connections to the Internet," says Cliff Frost, director of network services here. "But many people with slow modems probably turn off their graphics." That is hardly a solution, since the wonder of the web is in the graphics, sound and video it makes available.
"This new proxy allows them to receive a less costly image and then download the full image only if they want it," he says.
Rather than burdening web servers with providing separate versions of pages for users with varying connection speeds, "TranSend accepts servers' existing pages and allows each user to select how much quality he or she is willing to sacrifice to improve loading speed," said Gribble.