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-- by Warren Ernst
Netscape Navigator's Bookmarks and Microsoft Internet Explorer's Favorites are excellent ways to keep track of Internet sites you plan to revisit. But if you are tracking more than 50 sites with either of these programs, your menu can become unwieldy. And if you regularly use both browsers, synchronizing your bookmarks can be a big headache.
Enter the bookmark manager, which promises to do away with these problems. Bookmark managers also let you search within your bookmark list, import and export bookmarks to your browser, and check to see if your bookmarked sites are alive, dead or changed. The four programs we tested-eScout 1.02, WebSite Launcher Pro 1.0, and beta versions of Compass 2.0 and Powermarks 3.0-are easy-to-use tools that excel in site cataloging. However, our WinList choice, NetAttachˇ Pro 2.5, offers superior search and download capabilities.
We put these four programs through their paces with a sample set of 500 bookmarks and used both the 3.0 versions of Navigator and Internet Explorer, as well as beta copies of the 4.0 releases. Although the 4.0 browsers have improved bookmark features-such as the ability to detect updated sites-synchronizing bookmarks between both browsers is still a problem, and bookmark searching is more difficult. Thus, standalone bookmark managers continue to offer better functionality.
If you usually organize your bookmarks by folders in Navigator or Internet Explorer, Compass will suit you well. The Compass window is divided into three panes: a familiar bookmark Folder pane, a folderless List pane and a Description pane. The latter displays Netscape's underexploited but extremely useful Description field, where you can easily jot notes about a bookmarked site. Most other programs hide the description field behind tabs or properties dialog boxes, making it laborious to add your own remarks. With Compass, you'll be adding comments all the time.
Compass provides a search method very similar to a database's filter command: As you type text into the search field, it automatically displays all the bookmarks that match, with the program eliminating irrelevant bookmarks as you type. The program also searches your site descriptions, so if you remember making a remark about a particular site, you'll be able to find it quickly, too.
Adding bookmarks to folders is a bit tedious while you're surfing, because you must manually expand folders before dragging a site into them. But if you plan on organizing your site at a later time or if you won't be using folders at all, a quick button click makes adding a bookmark a snap.
eScout works differently than most bookmark managers. Competing programs require you to export bookmarks from Navigator and Internet Explorer into a file before searching. By contrast, eScout automatically finds your existing Bookmark file and Favorites folder and displays their contents within its own window, so you have access to all your bookmarks regardless of which browser you're using.
Convenient management tools are only half of eScout's claim to fame; it also offers a large set of links (segregated on their own tab) that are prepackaged with the product. Though most focus on common topics and well-known sites, these predigested sites can make Web searching easier for beginners or those easily intimidated by AltaVista. If you're trying to introduce a beginner to the Internet and your bookmarks, eScout would be a good tool to help them find new sites of interest while simultaneously keeping your own list separate and safe from inadvertent modification.
Beyond this, eScout's bookmarking features are spartan. There's really no "management," since you can't modify, delete or reorganize your bookmarks-you're just viewing the bookmarks you've already got in a single, convenient window. To add new bookmarks or edit existing ones, you must use your browser's own bookmarking commands. In addition, searching is laborious, requiring repeated Find Again key presses.
Powermarks is perfectly suited to those who hate folders. Unlike its competitors, Powermarks imports all of your existing Bookmarks and Favorites into a common pool that can be quickly searched. Powermarks treats each word in every bookmark and description as a keyword. The program uses the letter-at-a-time matching system that Windows Help uses, so as you type each letter, Powermarks starts rejecting nonmatching sites immediately. To jump to one of the remaining sites, just double-click on it, or keep typing until one site remains in the list and press Enter. You'll never have to use a Find Again command in Powermarks.
The Powermarks window is small when opened but can hide in the Windows tray when not in use. Since there are no folders to worry about, you can quickly add a new bookmark to the list.
Although we found Powermarks' folderless approach simple and intuitive, it may take getting used to if you're accustomed to working with folders. In addition, you won't be able to export the Powermarks file into a regular bookmark file with folders. But if you don't like folders to begin with, you probably won't miss that feature here.
WebSite Launcher Pro 1.0
A lack of basic features makes WebSite Launcher Pro anything but "The Ultimate Web Site Organizer" it promises to be. WebSite Launcher Pro looks and feels sort of like a miniature database application, complete with table grid lines and a set of VCR-like buttons for "fast forwarding" and "rewinding" through list entries. The program also offers a filter field to narrow down the number of bookmarks displayed at any given time, and a category pop-up menu that organizes your list like folders, but with less convenience.
WebSite Launcher Pro's biggest problem is its lack of import and export features. In addition, the program can't automatically bookmark a currently displayed Web page. Furthermore, it expects you to manually type the name, URL and description of each Web site you want it to index.
The kindest thing we can say about WebSite Launcher Pro is that it has a number of interesting features that we'd like to see in other bookmark programs. For example, you can print your databases from WebSite Launcher Pro directly and create your own quick list of sites that appears in the taskbar tray.
Which marker's for you?
NetAttachˇ Pro 2.5, currently on the WinList, does a lot more than track bookmarks. It will, for instance, automatically surf the Web and download your bookmarked sites for offline browsing. These are handy features, which is why NetAttachˇ remains on the WinList. However, advanced features can get in the way when all you need is a better and faster way to manage and synchronize your burgeoning Bookmark and Favorites files. In this respect, Powermarks 3.0 is an excellent all-around bookmark manager, thanks to its simplicity, high-speed searching, site tracking and import/export abilities. If the thought of losing your folder hierarchy troubles you, however, you should take a good look at Compass, which offers nearly all of Powermarks' functionality in a familiar folder-based format.