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Virgin America tunes up with YSlow

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Me and my... Firefox plug in Ravi Simhambhatla's latest project employing open source has been to juice up the web site for Virgin America, the US's newest carrier, so travelers can surf smoothly and purchase tickets without waiting for pages to build.

Virgin America relies heavily on the power of virginameica.com, which pulls in 80 per cent of sales, with 150,000 unique hits a day in the week and 100,000 at weekends.

While Virgin America was this month voted one of America's top five airlines in Zagat's annual survey of carriers, though, the domestic web site came fourth.

That's not bad going, considering Virgin America only started flying in August and it made the top five against bigger and more established rivals. Plus, Simhambhatla and his IT team had to roll out the company's IT infrastructure at the last minute, as it wasn't certain until close to the launch date that Sir Richard Branson's latest venture would even gain US regulatory approval. However, there's clearly room for improvement if Virgin's web site is to match the same levels demanded of the rest of its service.

In tuning the web site, Simhambhatla - Virgin America's director of architecture and integration - picked YSlow, Yahoo!'s Firefox plug in, that's available under the Mozilla Public License and BSD. Working off YSlow's report card, Simhambhatla drew up a list of 13 action points that included reducing the number of JavaScript and CSS files, eliminating white space in the remaining JavaScript files - cutting their size by half - and adopting Gzip compression.

"Many web sites don't do it [Gzip compression]," Simhambhatla told El Reg in a recent interview.

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