April 08, 2004

Tip: Automate Your IE Favorites Searching (for Free)

I have too many browser bookmarks (or favorites, if you prefer) in IE -- far too many. At home, the problem is magnified due to the addition of my family's bookmarks. Like most people, I have them organized into topical folders and subfolders. That doesn't mean that a particular bookmark is always easy to find. Many times it's just the opposite due to the sheer size of the forest surrounding the one tree I need. Regardless of how your IE favorites are organized, here are some easy tips to help manage the overload:

1) When you bookmark sites, make sure the saved name is descriptive: Include the name of the site, along with several keywords that you'd typically use to find it.

2) Next, you can perform a Windows file search for your IE favorites and save that search as a shortcut. This little-known Windows trick works surprisingly well. After you perform this quick one-time setup and save it, you'll have a built-in search engine for all of your IE favorites, and it's just one click away on your IE link bar.

Please note: Due to the manner in which IE stores each favorite as a separate file, which is often different than how other browsers store them, this tip will probably only work for IE-based browsers (which also includes many of the IE-wrapper browsers, such as my current preference, MyIE2 -- it may not be the fastest browser in the West, but it's definitely one of the most feature-laden for infomaniacs).

The exact procedure may vary a little between Windows versions, so this is generally how you do it. While it may appear to be a lot of steps, trust me, it's not -- most of them are quick mouse selections.

  1. Click on the Start button to bring up your Windows main menu, and click on "Find", then on "Files or Folders". This will launch the Find search dialog box.

  2. On the "Name & Location" tab, go to the "Look in" field and either browse to the root of your IE favorites directory or type in the path, (e.g., C:\Windows\Favorites for Win 9x/ME or something similar to C:\Winnt\Profiles\Username\Favorites for Win NT/2000/XP). I recommend browsing to it so you know you've got the path exactly right.

  3. Make sure the "Include subfolders" check box (located below the "Look in" field) is checked, so you will search all of your IE favorites folders.

  4. In the "Date" tab, make sure "All files" is selected.

  5. On the "Advanced" tab, mouse over to the right of the "Of type" field, and click on the pull-down menu. Select "Internet Shortcut" for the file type.

  6. Click on the "Find Now" screen button to run the search and verify that it works correctly. The results should list all of your IE favorites and give you a total count on the status bar. If this worked, continue with the next step. Otherwise, double-check your work before proceeding.

  7. Next, you need to save the search: In the Find window, click on the "File" pull-down menu and click on "Save Search". A new shortcut should appear on your Windows desktop (assuming it's not locked down via any Windows policies), named something similar to "Files of type Internet Shortcut.fnd".

  8. Now let's move it into your browser "Links" bar: Right-click on this desktop file, and click on "Cut" on the pop-up menu.

  9. Open up Windows Explorer (e.g., hold down the "Windows" key and press "E"), and browse to the same favorites folder you did in Step 2 above. Now find the "Links" folder under it and open it so it is your current directory.

  10. Paste the saved search file into the Links folder. You can rename it as desired, except that you MUST keep the .fnd file extension, which is associated with the Find feature. For instance, mine is named "Search Faves.fnd".

  11. Launch IE or your IE-based browser. If you have the links bar displayed, you should see the new shortcut (although you may have to click on the pull-down arrow to the far right if you have too many links to be displayed). You can also drag and drop this shortcut around in the link bar. Otherwise, you can access it from your IE Favorites pull-down menu. You can also enable the links bar by clicking on "View", "Toolbars", and then on "Links".

  12. Now anytime you need to look for a long-lost bookmark, just click on the shortcut to the .fnd file, and up will pop the Windows Find dialog, with the above selections predefined. Then you simply fill in the filename or key words (or wildcard variation) in the "Named" field and/or in the "Containing text" field to find your bookmark. Click the "Find Now" button to run the search, then double-click on the desired bookmark in the results screen to open it in a browser window.

Keep in mind that using the "Named" and "Containing text" fields is cumulative, meaning that filling in both fields is the same as searching for both with an "AND" connector, which further limits your search. Also keep in mind that the "Named" field only searches the characters found in the actual name of the favorites file, which is why it's useful to include keywords when you save each new favorite instead of having many named "Welcome page". The "Containing text" field searches the actual contents of the each saved favorites file, which contains the complete URL of the corresponding web site.

3) You can also go out and download a bookmark manager, which is particularly useful if you find yourself bouncing between different browsers (e.g., IE and Mozilla-based browsers). Several are free, but many are not. I've heard very good comments about Powermarks. This one isn't free but it's database driven and integrates with the most common browsers (IE, Netscape, Mozilla, Opera, and NetCaptor). However, Powermarks is not directly integrated with some alternative browsers, such as MyIE, Firebird/Firefox, Avant, Slimbrowser, etc., most of which use another browser's underlying engine (e.g., IE or Mozilla's Gecko). In this regard they are missing a necessary communication interface which Powermarks needs for integration. There is a workaround available, but it is somewhat limited.

Lastly, if you'd like more information about managing your web sessions, then I heartily recommend Dennis Kennedy's Legal Technology Primer on the subject. For searching IE favorites, I like the solution detailed above because it leverages a feature built right into Windows, and the price was right. However, there are certainly other good solutions available, and the trick is to find one that you'll actually use.

Topic(s):   Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard

There are two surfing habits that have become almost instinctual for me in the last couple of years: 1) "mouse-gesturing" to navigate; and 2) getting URL's from PowerMarks.

I learned of mouse-gestures when I first started using Opera a couple of years back. From time to time, I find myself muttering at IE when forced to use it as the simple efficiency of mouse-gesturing to navigate has become ingrained in my browsing. I've installed the mouse-gesture plug-in for FireFox and it works great. Moreover, FireFox works with Westlaw's print/save functions, whereas Opera does not. So FireFox is my browser of choice right now.

As for Favorites/Bookmarks, I have been a user of PowerMarks for several years and it has freed me from losing bookmarks in the swamp of sub-folders. For example, I am a narrow-guage railway fan. I also travel frequently in Germany. As it happens, Germany also has lots of narrow guage railways. By assigning simple keywords (schmalspur and/or Germany) to these types of favorites, I can quickly search PowerMarks for any combination of URL's on this subject (i.e., Germany, but not narrowguage, both Germany and narrow guage, etc...).

I agree that bookmark managers need to recognize that there is more than one browser on the market and it's great to see that PowerMarks is beginning to create ways to use it with all browsers. Further improvement is of course needed, but I'll use a kludged work-around in PowerMarks anyday rather than be stuck with IE. Now, if only my bank would redesign its website to work with non-IE browsers!

Great blog and keep up the fascinating topics. I read you almost every day.

Posted by: Alexander Rhoads at April 18, 2004 03:40 AM

I've ended up taking a whole different approach. I use furl.net for keeping track of web pages that I want to go back to.

It has the advantage of being available from any computer.

Posted by: Alan Rich at April 8, 2004 08:14 PM