UBlock Origin - a powerful Internet purification tool

Updated: June 29, 2020

Every now and then, I receive an email from a reader asking me why I'm not using uBlock Origin. Or rather, why Adblock Plus and not uBlock Origin? Alas, the question is based on a wrong assumption. I do use it, I use them both (not at the same time), and it's on several of my recommended software lists. But I've never given it a proper review. Time to rectify that.

The modern Internet is a cesspit. A filthy place with tiny, isolated pockets of goodness. Adblocking isn't there to kill revenue streams for indie websites, it's there to stop nonsense from becoming the dominant force of any and every Web experience. Helping turn the tide are a few brave champions. I've already reviewed uMatrix, and you know my all-time-favorite Noscript. Now, let's have a look at uBlock Origin.

Teaser

Adblocker ... and so much more

Like uMatrix, another major Web cleansing tool developed by Raymond Hill, uBlock Origin is a tool with two modes. The simple mode, where it does the basic stuff, and the advanced mode, where you can pretty much do anything you like, provided you have the patience and the skillz.

Install uBlock Origin and start using it. Done. In the basic mode, it's a fairly efficient and lean adblocker, and it does its job well. Now, when I started the testing for this review, the interface had one type of styling, but it has since been revamped. The "old" design offered two distinct views - simple/advanced. The "new" one comes with less/more buttons, which let you expand the amount of informations (and controls) you have, until you hit the full advanced UI. Regardless, you get the same functionality.

Main view

This is the older interface look.

Main interface, new design

And the new one; somewhat cleaner and easier to use.

Elements blocking

UBlock Origin will only block ads and trackers by default. But you can do more. You can disable Javascript, media files, fonts, as well as popups. Then, you can also pick elements from a loaded page and manually remove (zap) them, if you like. This can be helpful if you encounter annoyances that aren't picked up by your filters, or perhaps you want to get rid of something you consider harmful or silly, but it doesn't fall under any existing category.

Remote fonts Javascript

Element zapper

Dashboard & settings

If you want to do even more - you can access the main Dashboard. All of the options exposed through the popup UI are also available here, and then some. You can disable tooltips, turn a high-contrast theme on, save your settings online (or offline), even tweak WebRTC. You can also use various filter lists, and add your own filters. Then, you can also whitelist specific websites, if you want to have a seamless Web experience.

Dashboard

Rules

The rules are editable - like in a text editor.

Advanced mode

If you check the box that says "I am an advanced user" - the interface will have more options, and it will resemble uMatrix. Here, you will get a matrix - get it, hi hi - of different Web elements and domains for each loaded site (and all its first- and third-party components), and you have the ability to enable or disable them individually. You can make your choice global or local; the right-most column will apply to the loaded top-level domain only, the one to the left of it will create global rules. Colors denote your choice - red is to disable, green to enable (allow), and gray means no rule - default behavior will apply.

Advanced mode

Global and local rules

And here's the advanced section in the new UI, with the More button clicked a few times:

Advanced mode, new UI

Problems?

Well, just a few. I noticed some conflict between uBlock Origin and Google Docs. Most notably, sometimes, uBlock Origin would not allow some fonts to load here and there, and if you're typing a document, you will see a growing number of blocked elements, roughly one every five seconds, until you end up with a ridiculously high number shown on the extension icon. This can be solved by excluding Google Docs from filtering, or using the logger to grab the errors - and then paste those into the rules section.

Another one - support chats used by different companies. Sometimes, uBlock Origin will block these. Most of the time, this is actually a great result, because in 99.99% of cases, support chat is an absolute waste of time, with bots and clueless humans competing for the lowest bar of service. But still, you might be forced to have to use one.

Nothing too major - but uBlock Origin can be quite aggressive. Most of the time, this is a really good thing, and you want proper, deep cleansing of the Web lest you end up sullied all over. But sometimes, a few good apples will be caught in the ad grinder. You need to be aware of this.

Conclusion

All in all, uBlock Origin is a fantastic tool. It's powerful, versatile, robust - and it doesn't cause any browser slowdown. Some extensions can be heavy, but in this case, the impact is minimal. Very refreshing and useful. Then, the simple/advanced mode offers the best of both worlds - ordinary users and nerds alike will find the level of control they need and feel comfortable with. Being able to turn Javascript off is another valuable asset.

I don't have anything bad to say really - some extra rigor is needed now and then, just to make sure you don't end up with legitimate content being blocked. But from what I've seen - we're talking long testing on multiple systems, over a couple of years, the false positives, when they do occur, are far and few in between and usually related to fonts. Ublock Origin does a great job, and its biggest challenge is making a difficult, complex task even easier to present. Should one deliberately seek drawbacks, the abundance of options stored in a small UI could be its Achilles' Heel. It's not easy creating visual minimalism without sacrificing actual functionality, but at the moment, uBlock Origin might be somewhat daunting to those less tech-savvy. Highly recommended, and I hope this finally answers the myriad emails on this topic. May your Internet be pure.

Cheers.

You may also like: