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Google tool to speed Web surfing

Web Accelerator is designed to tap into Google's global computer network and thus make sites load faster.

Google has introduced a technology designed to make Web sites load faster.

A beta, or test version, of Web Accelerator was introduced via the Google Labs technology incubation site late Wednesday. The tool, which must be downloaded, will tap into the power of Google's global computer network and thus help sites load faster, according to the company.

Web Accelerator works by sending URL requests through company servers designated specifically for speeding site downloads. The application also can compress site data before sending it to computers.

The system stores copies of sites frequently accessed by individual PCs and automatically retrieves new data from those pages, so that a Web browser needs to process only updates to those sites when asked to load them. Google said the tool will not work on some pages, such as encrypted sites managed by financial services companies, and is not designed to speed downloads of multimedia files.

In an e-mail sent to CNET News.com, a Google representative said the company is always looking at new ways to help its users access information more quickly.

"Now we're using our efficient networks to help other pages load more quickly as well, so that once our users leave Google.com they will still be able to enjoy a fast online experience," the representative said.

The beta of Web Accelerator is targeted specifically at computers with broadband connections; Google said that dial-up customers may not see much improvement using the tool. The first phase of the beta is aimed at Europe and North America and won't likely speed surfing outside those continents, the company said.

To use the application, a computer must have Microsoft's Windows XP or 2000 and at least version 5.5 of Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser or version 1.0 of Mozilla Foundation's Firefox browser. Other browsers running on Windows can be manually configured to run Web Accelerator, Google said. After installing the application, a toolbar for use with the system shows up on browsers.

In an attempt to quell potential privacy concerns related to storing Internet usage data, Google said that Web Accelerator receives much of the same kind of information people already share with their Internet service providers (ISPs) when surfing the Web.

The Google representative said that the company has gone to great lengths to ensure that the tool does not broadcast information that could lead to some form of online attack. In addition to avoiding encrypted sites, the representative said, Web Accelerator can be set not to pre-fetch data from sites, can have its history of downloaded sites cleared in moments, and is easy to disable altogether.

Web Accelerator marks the latest effort by Google to flaunt the enormous computing power of the worldwide network of servers used to support its market-leading search engine. Last year, the company launched its Gmail Web-based e-mail , which dramatically shifted the footprint for such applications by offering 1GB of free storage.

At the time, leading e-mail providers such as Yahoo and Microsoft offered a few megabytes of storage for free and charged customers who wanted more space. Since then, Google has boosted Gmail capacity to well over 2GBs of free storage, and its rivals have changed their own policies to offer greater amounts of storage at no cost.

Google's PC servers, which number in the thousands, run a stripped-down version of Linux, which is based on the distribution of the open-source software marketed by Red Hat.