After some years exploring the Web, most of us have collected a number, possibly quite a large number, of URLs that we keep squirrelled away for future reference, in accordance with our habits and interests. Such preserved URLs are often referred to as "bookmarks." Adam wrote a three-part article in 1996 on bookmark management software and techniques, but at the time I paid scant attention, since my browser of choice, Internet Explorer, handled them adequately, providing a hierarchical menu for choosing "favorite" URLs and an outline interface for arranging them. All that changed, though, in the move to Mac OS X. The problem was partly migrating my settings from Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X and keeping them coordinated in case I switched back. But even more important, I no longer had a browser of choice – in this brave new world, I have been experimenting with several browsers (Internet Explorer, Mozilla, OmniWeb, and others) that clamor for my attention. With abrupt clarity, I knew I needed a separate, browser-agnostic URL keeper to act as a central repository.
In this moment of need, Alco Blom’s URL Manager Pro saved my bacon. I have been using it in various development versions for months now, but it has just gone final as version 3.0, which seems an appropriate opportunity to recommend it. And I most certainly do. To put it simply, if I had to list the top five utilities without which I could never have made the switch to Mac OS X, URL Manager Pro would be one of them.
Laying Out the Garden — A URL Manager Pro window represents a bookmark file; you’re not limited to one such file, but I like having just one that opens when URL Manager Pro does. The window displays an outline of folders (categories) and URLs within them; you can rearrange these as one would expect of an outline. You can add a note to each URL, as well as set various other options. Double-clicking a URL opens it in your browser; or you can drag it into a browser. But you don’t need to work in URL Manager Pro’s window just to open a URL; the bookmark file can also be displayed hierarchically in the program’s Dock menu, and even, in the case of Internet Explorer, Opera, and iCab, as a normal ("shared") menu amongst the browser’s own. (An accompanying "menulet," Mondriaan, lets you access a limited set of separately determined URLs even when URL Manager Pro isn’t running.)
Similarly, there are various ways to add a URL from your browser to the bookmark file. You can drag the address from the browser into the bookmark file; you can choose Add Bookmark from URL Manager Pro’s Dock icon menu while the browser window is frontmost; you can choose Add Bookmark from the browser’s shared menu if it has one; and in some browsers you can even Control-click a link and choose Add Link to URL Manager Pro from the contextual menu.
Tough Row to Hoe — URL Manager Pro’s weakness is the inconsistency of the implementation of its features across different Internet programs. The chief fault lies, of course, with those Internet programs, of which some support shared menus and some don’t, some support certain Apple events and some don’t, and so forth. It’s confusing, and made more confusing by URL Manager Pro itself. You never quite know what a menu item will do, because the same words mean different things in different places. For example, Add Bookmark in the shared menu brings up a dialog for modifying the URL information before entering it in the bookmark file; Add Bookmark in the Dock menu doesn’t; Add Bookmark in URL Manager Pro’s own menu creates a blank URL; and there’s no Add Bookmark in Mondriaan at all. Come to that, why is Mondriaan so different – why isn’t it simply a menulet version of URL Manager Pro itself, providing access to the bookmark file, as an alternative to the Dock and the shared menu? In general, the details of how one accesses functionality, such as the names of menu items, could use some rethinking. The situation isn’t helped by a manual that’s vague, poorly structured, and not always complete.
Nonetheless, URL Manager Pro is a powerful program, full of surprises and usually anticipating your needs; most users will probably require just a fraction of its power. It can be set to watch and record your browsing in a history list, so you can later recover a URL you forgot to add previously. It can import all the links within a Web page or email. It can validate links. I could go on and on – its abilities are too various to list here. Try it and see for yourself.
URL Manager Pro runs natively under Mac OS 8 or higher (2.4 MB download), including Mac OS X (2.2 MB download). It costs a mere $25, or $11 to upgrade from version 2. For $37 you can register both URL Manager Pro and Alco Blom’s other shareware utility, Web Confidential, on which I also depend for storing and retrieving user account and password information (see Adam’s review – "Web Confidential: Securing Information of All Sorts" in TidBITS-441).