Programming - - By Craig Buckler

Will You Use Google’s New Page Speed Service?

Google has announced their new Page Speed Service. In essence, it’s a combination of proxy servers, Content Delivery Networks (CDN), and web page optimizers which Google states will produce speed gains of 25-60% for most websites.

The service is being offered to a limited set of web developers at no cost. After the trial period, Page Speed will be released to everyone and, although there are no details, “pricing will be competitive” (source: Official Google Code blog).

To use the service, it’s simply a matter of registering and adding a new DNS CNAME record to your domain. As well as providing a gzipped proxy server for static files, the service can also rewrite your pages for web performance best-practices:

  • CSS files can be combined, minimized, and moved to the HTML head
  • JavaScript files can be combined and minimized using Google’s Closure Compiler
  • images can scaled and optimized

All features are optional so you can, for example, disable the Closure Compiler if it breaks your JavaScript code.

Google provides a page test comparison service at www.webpagetest.org/compare. It estimated that SitePoint.com’s home page would enjoy a 13% speed increase — I suspect that’s primarily owing to JavaScript file concatenation.

Tremendous or Troublesome?

Depending on the price, the Page Speed Service could be ideal for inefficient static pages running on slow servers. It may be more cost-effective than spending money on further development or hosting.

Unfortunately, there are a few downsides:

  • Bare domains are not supported, i.e. you must use www.domain.com rather than domain.com. That’s a shame — I’ve been dropping the “www” from my sites.
  • HTTPS pages are not supported.
  • Flash, streamed audio, streamed video and files over 50MB are not supported.
  • POST requests greater than 2MB are not supported.
  • You’re unlikely to experience significant speed gains on web applications running server-side code.
  • Domains hosted on Blogger, Google Sites or Google App Engine are not supported.

Speaking as a web developer, the service makes me slightly uncomfortable. Like many, I ensure my sites are optimized by combining files, minimizing the code, reducing HTTP requests and using CDNs where possible. For Page Speed to be attractive, I wouldn’t want to lose control, configuration would have to be easy, I wouldn’t want my code to be rewritten, and the price would have to be cheaper than upgraded hosting.

Risk is another factor which needs to be assessed. Will Page Speed offer additional redundancy or two points of failure? I suspect it will depend on the quantity of static vs generated content on your website.

Finally, are you willing to hand your website keys to Google? Their services are more reliable than most, but this is a new product which could experience teething problems. Conspiracy theorists will also see this as another step toward Google’s global domination. Google Search considers page speed factors so could the company become an all-powerful web host which undermines sites not using their network?

Technically, Google Page Speed an amazing solution which should boost the download speeds for most sites — especially those which are inefficiently coded. However, I’m not convinced many good web developers will adopt it. And would bad developers understand the service or care enough to recommend it?

Time will tell if Google’s Page Speed Service is a success. Please let us know your opinions…

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