Bookmarks: Digital Bread Crumbs in Netscape 4

First Published:
Date Published: 1997
Copyright © 1997 by Kevin Savetz

I've always been a little dubious about "bookmarks." Keeping track of web sites bears little resemblance to keeping track of reading material. When you're avoiding responsibility by burying your nose a trashy novel, your bookmark indicates where you left off. That part of the book isn't necessarily any good, and you probably won't return to that place more than once. You have one bookmark, you use it until it slips out and lands in a tub of water. Then you rip off a corner of the phone bill and you've get a new bookmark. I fail to see how keeping track of web sites is analogous to using a bookmark.

But the name has stuck. Bookmarks are the de facto system for keeping track of sites that we visit frequently, and it pays to know the ins and outs of how they work. Navigator's tools for saving and using bookmarks are quite powerful, although some of the best features are well hidden.

There are three components in Netscape Navigator that help you manage bookmarks: the Location Toolbar, the Personal Toolbar and the Edit Bookmarks window. By using them together you can turn your list of favorite sites from a jumbled mess to a compulsively organized trove.

The interfaces for working with bookmarks are rather different in the Windows and Mac versions of Netscape 4 -- the Mac version, for some inexplicable reason, lacks the Personal Toolbar altogether. I'll cover the differences here, so stick with me.

The Location Toolbar: What A Drag

Near the top of Navigator's window is the location toolbar -- the area that shows the URL of the current page. Immediately to the left of the URL is the bookmark icon -- the magic of this little guy is: it's dragable. And you'll be dragging it around a lot. Drag it right off the browser window right on to your Desktop, and Netscape will oblige by putting a bookmark there. Later, you can double-click that bookmark to launch Navigator and go straight to the site. Mac users: If you use DragThing or another drag-savvy program launcher, you can drag your Netscape bookmarks right to that program. Very cool.

Windows users will also see a button labeled Bookmarks on the location toolbar. Click it to reveal a list of your bookmarks. Even if you haven't saved any yourself, Netscape has thoughtfully populated your bookmarks with a bunch of sites. To jump to any bookmarked site, simply find it in the hierarchal menus, click and watch Navigator fetch. To quickly mark a page, click on the Bookmarks button, slide over to Add Bookmark and click again.

The quick and dirty way for Mac users to access their bookmarks is via the Bookmarks menu. No, it doesn't say "bookmarks" -- it's a slanted blue line that's presumably supposed to look like a bookmark. To save a bookmark, choose Add Bookmark from that menu or type Command-D.

The Edit Bookmarks Window

The excitement really begins in the Edit Bookmarks window. Pick Edit Bookmarks from the Bookmarks button (Windows) or type Command-B (Mac) to see it. You'll see a complete list of your bookmarks -- this is your chance to organize and sort them. Each bookmark in this window is dragable, so feel free to move them around or even drag a few to your Desktop. To help you organize things, you can create folders for bookmarks -- pick New Folder from the File menu to do so. You might make one folder for your projects, one for the font archives that you frequent, and another for links to your favorite search engines. Drag relevant bookmarks to the appropriate folder. To add a horizontal line to the bookmarks list for a visual cue, pick New Separator from the File menu. You can drag it around, too.

The best thing about bookmarks is Navigator's ability to track changes to your bookmarked pages. If a page has been updated since the last time you visited it, Navigator will happily notify you. To do this magic, while you're looking at the Edit Bookmarks window, select Update Bookmarks from the View menu (it's called What's New? in the Mac version). Navigator will scan all of your bookmarked sites or just selected ones if you prefer. Sites that have changed since you last visited will be marked with a special icon. Any sites that couldn't be reached will be labeled with a question mark.

Use Update Bookmarks regularly -- Navigator only checks for changes when you use this command. The process only takes a moment, even if you have a lot of bookmarks.

Getting Personal with Windows

Windows users can set up easy access to a favorite folder full of bookmarks using the Personal Toolbar. The Personal Toolbar is a list of bookmarks that's prominently displayed near the top of your browser window -- by default, it's wedged between the Location and Navigation toolbars.

There's nothing special about the bookmarks in the Personal Toolbar. If you look in the Edit Bookmark window, you'll notice a folder called "Personal Toolbar Folder." Its contents simply appear in your Personal Toolbar. You can add sites to that folder in the usual way with Edit Bookmarks: they will dutifully appear in your Personal Toolbar.

Actually, you can make any one folder the home base for your Personal Toolbar. For instance, click on the folder that holds the links to your favorite search engines. Now choose Set As Toolbar Folder from your View menu. Voila, now you've got easy access to those sites via the Personal Toolbar.

Articles by Kevin Savetz