In case you haven’t heard, OpenDNS (wikipedia) is a free DNS service designed to improve your surfing experience, or as their PR blur puts it:
…is a safer, faster, smarter and more reliable way to navigate the Internet.
I decided to try it out for a week, replacing my ISP’s default DNS servers. All-in-all I got just about what I expected.
The set up process was probably the most painful part of the experience, but that is more my router’s fault than anything else. For whatever reason my router – the usualy reliable linksys WTR54G – decided to crap out after I changed the DNS setting. I had to do hard reboot before I was good to go.
I was a little skeptical about their claim to be faster. I mean, DNS is one of the most lightweight services one the internet, it’s not terribly slow to begin with. Plus my ISP’s DNS servers are only a few hops away, how could a centralized/internet wide service be faster. I don’t know how they do it, but I was pleasantly surprised! Noticed faster DNS resolution immediately!
The safer claim refers to the massive blacklists OpenDNS taps into. They give you the ability to block phishing sites and various levels of adult content (from ‘tasteless’ to full on porn sites). I decided to turn on the lowest level of adult blocking (only porn sites) and leave the phishing blocking on. I don’t often find myself on sites these filters would block, I was basically testing for false positives. If the service is able to precisely block the content I ask it to, then it’s a good blocking service. I only came across one false positive over the past week, indietits.com a web comic featuring 2 tits. Since OpenDNS allows you to easily whitelist any domain this was only a minor inconvience. There’s no mechanism to report a false positive directly, so I’m assuming their system learns based on the whitelist data.
OpenDNS is supposedly smarter because it has the ability to fix misspelled domain names. At the end of the day this is a pretty useless feature. The problem is, OpenDNS only kicks in when a) the domain name is common enough that it can figure out the actual address youre trying to get to and b) the domain name you tried to access does not exist. Since almost all misspellings of common domains are taken by squatters you’ll barely ever stumble across a misspelling that isn’t attached to a server. I suppose this feature is designed for people who mangle the top level domain name, blah.cmo will never resolve and it does a good job of redirecting these to the proper TLD. But I always use firefox’s keyboard shortcuts to add the .com or .net. So again, I wasn’t really affected by this feature.
The OpenDNS control panel has two features that are clearly designed to appeal to the nerds. One more useful than the other.
The control panel gives you the ability to create a “shortcut,” allowing you to assign a short name to any resolvable address. For example, you could link “wiki” to “wikipedia.org” or link something like “wsearch” to wikipedia’s search page.
The second less useful nerd feature are the stats. OpenDNS provides a wide range of charts and graphs about your DNS resolution history. These might actually be somewhat interesting if they weren’t in GMT.
Again, I didn’t find myself using either of these features very much.
What’s the catch?
“How do they make money?” you might ask. Well it’s pretty simple, whenever you stumble across a non-resolving domain, OpenDNS will present you with a (revenue generating) search application and related text ads. This is fairly non-obtrusive. The only thing I find kind of weird is that this is identical to verisign’s site-finder. When that launched in 2003 it caused such a shitstorm that they were only allowed to keep it online for 19 days! (read the wikipedia article linked above) I guess the main difference with OpenDNS is that it’s completely opt-in.
At the end of the day, it’s a pretty neat service. I’ll probably keep it configured, since it doesn’t really negatively affect my internet experience, and I do get a bit of a speed boost.
I can see the service being quite a bit more useful to someone who manages are small network, especially if they need to filter the internet.
For Personal use, it’s usefulness is a little more dubious.
After one week of use, I give OpenDNS a rating of : *shrug*