Let's face it: the bookmark or hotlist features of most Web browsers stink. They're utterly lousy. Most aren't even hierarchical, which makes it practically impossible to categorize your bookmarks, and the few (like Netscape Navigator's) that are hierarchical don't have the elegance of a well-written Macintosh application.
When Web browsers first appeared, I yelled about how we needed a good independent bookmark program, partly because the existing ones were lousy, and partly because those of us who have to use and test multiple Web browsers find it difficult to switch back and forth if we lose our bookmarks each time. Also, since you collect URLs from multiple places (such as email, newsgroup postings, and Web pages), why should a bookmark manager be limited to a single program?
It took a while, but now there are tons of independent bookmark managers, ranging from the truly simple to the overly complex. I look briefly at a number of them here, but thanks to the multitude of bookmark managers available, I'm splitting this article into two parts. The first part focuses on bookmark managers that use their own interface for organizing bookmarks, and next week the second part will look at programs that rely on the Finder for organization.
BookMark Manager 1.521 -- Shinjiro Nojimi's $20 shareware BookMark Manager is a limited-time demo application that sports a two-pane interface for hierarchical storage of bookmarks. You can go more than two levels deep, but the Find Parent command becomes necessary at that point - more panes would be useful. BookMark Manager has a Find View that lets you find text in the title (fast) or in the URL and text notes for that bookmark (slower). It seems BookMark Manager has all the basics covered in terms of importing, exporting, sorting, and launching URLs, but its interface needs serious work - the buttons are too small and needlessly trying for 3-D, the main window isn't resizable, many of the dialogs are unnecessarily complex, and there are confusing menu commands (such as Cancel). Although BookMark Manager can launch URLs once registered, it has no shortcut for grabbing URLs from other applications.
ClipFiler 1.3 FKEY -- Casey Fleser's <firstname.lastname@example.org> $10 shareware ClipFiler FKEY, despite being the least full-featured of any of the bookmark managers, still gets a strong vote because of its simplicity. You drop a suitcase containing the appropriate FKEY in your Fonts folder, reboot, and from then on, all you have to do capture any text selection is hit that FKEY (Shift-Command and a number). ClipFiler saves the selection to a SimpleText document called Clippings on your desktop, and you can use Peter Lewis and Quinn's ICeTEe (bundled with Internet Config) to launch URLs by Command-clicking them. I like ClipFiler because I can easily snag more than just a URL, which makes it great for storing items to check out later. It makes a lousy bookmark manager, of course, but most bookmark managers are mediocre at storing much more than URLs and short descriptions.
DragNet 1.0.2 -- OnBase Technology's $39.95 DragNet (with a limited demo) is perhaps the most ambitious bookmark managers. Its four windows provide most any feature you could want. The Addresses window lets you enter, name, and categorize new bookmarks manually (DragNet automatically adds fields for Date Added and Date Last Visited). You can search by typing words while no other text fields are selected - a handy, though confusing interface. The Directory window looks much like a Finder window in Name view with categories for folders and URLs for files. The Directory window simplifies the task of categorizing URLs and browsing among the categories. The Searcher window lets you find groups of URLs containing a text string (unlike the searching feature of the Addresses window, which finds the next matching URL). Finally, the Hot List window contains six configurable pop-up menus that hold URLs in a category. Below the six pop-up menus are ten buttons that, much like the buttons on a car radio, provide instant access to frequently visited sites.
You can drag an item from any DragNet window to a browser to launch it, or click the omnipresent Go To button. Snagging URLs is generally a matter of drag & drop as well, but DragNet can also get the current URL from some browsers, and there's an extension included that intercepts Netscape Navigator 2.0's Add Bookmark menu item and redirects the URL to DragNet's database. DragNet's online help stands in for the lack of a manual, and my testing revealed only some cosmetic display problems in 16-bit or 24-bit color on my second monitor. Oddly, DragNet does not use Internet Config, nor does it differentiate between different types of URL schemes, although it accepts non-http URLs. Nonetheless, in terms of the commercial database-oriented bookmark managers, DragNet's currently the best.
GrabNet 2.0 -- GrabNet, from the ForeFront Group, is a full-featured commercial ($19.95 with a 30-day full demo) bookmark manager. You can drag & drop URLs into your GrabNet document (it also can grab the current URL in your browser) and double-clicking an item or dragging it to your browser launches its URL. GrabNet supports hierarchical lists in both name and icon views and lets you sort them by label (name), origin (URL), and last visited date. Most interesting about GrabNet, however, is that you can create not only a comment for each URL, but you can also paste in some text or a graphic that displays when you have that URL selected within GrabNet. I'm not sure how I'd use this feature, and it seems like more work than I'd go to while creating URLs. I wasn't thrilled with GrabNet; its interface confused me slightly, and I'm not fond of toolbars and cryptic buttons (especially when they appear in the menus). Other than the capability to find a text string within the database, GrabNet seems to have all the basic features, including HTML import and export.
Internet Memory 1.5 -- The $20 Internet Memory (distributed as a locked, five-item demo) provides a clean interface for adding URLs via drag & drop and launching them with a double-click. It supports URLs of a variety of types, but doesn't use Internet Config to match URL types to helper applications. A neat feature is that Internet Memory can minimize its window to just its icon when you launch a URL; single-clicking that window maximizes it again. Unfortunately, you can't drag URLs into the minimized window. Internet Memory supports multiple address books and multiple folders for organizing URLs hierarchically, which is good, but forces you to edit everything in a dialog, including folder names and URL titles. You can search your address books, and Internet Memory has a Record mode that records URLs you visit with Netscape Navigator. Other unusual features include the capability to write-protect or DES encrypt your address books (can't say that I particularly see the need for either), and the capability to store multiple email signatures or other bits of boilerplate text to copy and paste into other applications. Overall, Internet Memory works, but doesn't have much to recommend it over other choices unless you need one of its more unusual features.
MailKeeper 1.0.2 -- Nisus Software's $35 MailKeeper (with a 75-record limited demo) does much more than just keep track of URLs. It stores and indexes text of any sort, and includes functionality to handle email addresses and URLs automatically. Storing text requires first copying the text, and then pressing a hotkey to move the selected text to your MailKeeper database. Drag & drop of URLs into MailKeeper also works, and you can drag URLs from MailKeeper to a drag-aware Web browser to launch them. As an added bonus, ICeTEe also works within MailKeeper if your Web browser doesn't support drag & drop. MailKeeper's most innovative feature is its method of helping you find items. Called Guided Information Access, it provides you with four user-defined columns of categories. Clicking on a category in a column narrows the list of items shown to those that match that category. Clicking another category in the same column or in a different one narrows the list to items that contain both categories. This process enables you to work easily through a large sets of data, and you can supplement it with date restrictions. You can define additional categories for MailKeeper to index automatically when an item is first saved to your database, although the method of getting MailKeeper to do that categorization after the fact is clumsy. MailKeeper suffers primarily from a confusing interface, and it's not really dedicated enough to URLs to be ideal for that purpose. I'd like to see MailKeeper add automatic recategorization when categories are added or deleted and the capability to index and then search an entire Eudora mailbox.
SiteMarker -- Rhythmic Sphere's $12.95 SiteMarker 1.0b5-3 works only with Netscape Navigator. It provides an unusual vertical three-pane display, known as a collection. The top pane contains multiple catalogs; the middle pane contains multiple categories within a catalog; and the bottom pane contains markers - the actual URLs within the categories. A number of windoids complete the interface. The Notator windoid lets you add comments to a marker. The Searcher windoid provides an interface to searching many of the main Web search engines and catalogs. The Stylist windoid lets you change the look of your collection window, and - finally - the Button Bar provides quick access to your eight favorite markers. SiteMarker can import and export HTML, and it has a Browser menu that can control Netscape via Apple events. An unusual item on that menu is Extract Links, which you use to suck all the links out of the current Web page (especially handy for snagging the results of a Yahoo search, for instance). SiteMarker also features a record mode that creates a marker for every page you visit. You can launch URLs by double-clicking or dragging them to Netscape, but you can't drag from Netscape to SiteMarker. Instead, to snag the current URL, you click the Mark button in the SiteMarker collection window or use the Mark command in the Marker menu. Overall, I found SiteMarker full-featured (although it lacks a Find) but sluggish and somewhat clumsy. Still, its record mode and Searcher windoid make it a useful tool.
The URL Manager 1.1 -- Alco Blom's $15 shareware application, The URL Manager, is fast, slick, and easy. Its documents open as Finder-like windows in Name view, but with a faster response time. You create bookmarks by dragging them in from a Web browser, or typing Command-N and editing the bookmark name and URL in place in the list (rather than in a clumsy dialog). You can search for text in names or URLs, and double-clicking a bookmark launches the URL in your Web browser. You can also open bookmarks in a specified (via Internet Config) helper application. A dedicated menu holds links to the main Web search engines. It's easy to get URLs into other applications, either by dragging or a simple copy and paste, which I find I do a lot in my writing and email. The URL Manager can import Netscape's bookmarks, bookmark files saved as HTML (it can even scan for URLs in normal text files), and Anarchie and Fetch bookmark files, and it can export an HTML page of bookmarks. You won't go wrong with The URL Manager, and Alco appears to be updating it frequently and with powerful new features.
WabbitDA 1.4.5 -- Mel Patrick's <email@example.com> freeware WabbitDA has a lot going for it. It's quick, easy to use, fully supports drag & drop, and has flexible search capabilities. You create new bookmarks by either copying them and clicking the New button, or dragging them to WabbitDA's window from Netscape or another drag-aware application. WabbitDA can also import bookmarks from Anarchie, Netscape, or another WabbitDA file. You launch URLs by dragging them to a drag-aware application or Command-clicking them in the WabbitDA window. Unusual features in WabbitDA are the grouping of URLs by scheme, and the marking of the group by color, along with a stopwatch feature for tracking how much time you spend online. WabbitDA's main drawback is that it's not hierarchical, and although you can create multiple WabbitDA files, you can have only one open at a time. I prefer The URL Manager to WabbitDA, but WabbitDA is quite good, and the price is right.
Web Squirrel 1.0.5 -- Eastgate Systems' WebSquirrel ($49 with a free demo, and for another week you can buy one, get one free via DealBITS) is the most innovative and unique of the bookmark managers. Drawing inspiration from Eastgate's hypertext editor Storyspace, Web Squirrel uses a graphical layout for storing bookmarks, simplifying navigation with a powerful Find feature and some easily accessed shortcuts. With support for pasting and drag & drop (from Web browsers or from other Web Squirrel documents), it's easy to get URLs into Web Squirrel, and a simple double-click launches the URL in the proper Internet Config-defined helper application. Web Squirrel suffers primarily from being somewhat unstable in my testing and from a plethora of unrelated metaphorical terms. This Web squirrel (since when do squirrels spin webs?) creates farms, which contain multiple items (bookmarks) that can be graphically grouped into neighborhoods or textually grouped into lists. You can walk or fly around your farm (what, no horse?). Agents (rather conspicuous on a farm in their dark suits) watch the contents of your farm for keywords and continually gather up matching sites. Web Squirrel's graphical display is screen hungry, but if it was more stable, I'd probably use it since its organizational schemes are actually fun to use.
WebArranger 2.0 -- CE Software's $99.95 WebArranger 2.0 (1.0 was distributed free through 16-Feb-96, and version 2.0 is a $49 upgrade and comes with a free demo), is astonishing in its scope, thanks in large part to its heritage as a personal information manager called Arrange from Common Knowledge. WebArranger can grab URLs with a hotkey thanks to an extension called Grabber and can launch URLs with a keystroke (ICeTEe's Command-click also works). You can import Netscape bookmarks, and - in an unusual feature - your Netscape History file. WebArranger can check URLs to see if they've changed, record your path through strands of the Web, and even keep trying to get into busy FTP sites. A variety of searching and sorting features are available. On the downside, although WebArranger uses drag & drop internally, it doesn't accept URLs dropped into its windows. Perhaps my main criticism is that WebArranger is overkill - if you're willing to devote plenty of time to learning its features and using it constantly, it won't disappoint, but more casual users or those wishing to starting using a program quickly will find WebArranger's myriad options and features confusing.
What URL?! 1.0a4 -- Noah Mittman's free What URL is an extremely simple application that accepts URLs dragged into its windows (you can also create bookmarks manually, although not directly, as in The URL Manager). It's not hierarchical, but you can create multiple windows and drag bookmarks between them. Launching is a matter of a double-clicking the URL in question. There's no sorting or searching, and you can only select one bookmark at a time. One unusual feature is a little padlock icon in the lower left corner of each window, which, when clicked, locks that window against accepting more bookmarks. A second click opens it again. What URL doesn't match up to The URL Manager or WabbitDA at this time, but it's still an early release.
WWW-Freund 1.0 -- David Renelt's free <firstname.lastname@example.org> WWW-Freund sports a clean interface, but has little power under the hood. It uses a two-pane window to create a hierarchical interface to your bookmarks, and it has a button to copy the URL to the clipboard and another to launch the URL specifically in Netscape. You cannot drag URLs into WWW-Freund, or snag them with a hotkey; instead, you must paste the URLs in manually. And, although you can add and edit a description of the URL if you like, if you make a mistake in either the name or the URL, you cannot edit them. You can't even move a URL from one group to another as far as I can see.
Take Your Pick -- After looking at all of these bookmark managers, I feel the best commercial utility is DragNet, with honorable mentions going to WebSquirrel for being the most interesting, and WebArranger, for taking too many steroids. In the shareware arena, my pick is The URL Manager, and for freeware, I currently prefer WabbitDA.
Which do I use? None of the above (actually, I do use WebArranger, but not for its bookmark management capabilities). Tune in next week for the second part of this article, which looks at bookmark managers that rely on the Finder. My personal favorite falls into that category.