BrowseBack: Web page memory comes at a price

If you want to keep track of your web browsing history, consider Smile on my Mac’s BrowseBack. But be prepared for the memory, processor and disk space resources it will require.

BrowseBack is a $30 application which will search the history of your web browsers and create searchable thumbnails for you to easily find pages you’ve visited. You can run it occasionally, during which time it will load up the pages you’ve visited since it was last quit, or you can have it running all the time. However, it will always be completely hidden unless it is the foremost application.

When you switch to BrowseBack, images of web pages you’ve visited lie on top of each other in three horizontal rows like playing cards spread across a table. Scrolling over the rows brings individual pages to the forefront with animation similar to the Dock’s magnification. A semi-transparent window overlays with information about the page’s title, favicon, text summary and browser used to visit. When you click on a page you are given choices to open in your default browser, e-mail it, export as a pdf or print.

There are also start and end date filters and a text box that allows you to search the contents of pages by keywords.

But while the interface is generally well-imagined, it is not particularly well-implemented. Imagine if the Dock icon you last moused over stayed magnified and identified after you moused off of it … even when you moused to the Apple menu. There is no scroll bar to determine where you are within the space of the history saved, and instead are simple forward and backward buttons that have no corresponding keyboard shortcuts. These buttons are not particularly attractive, and neither are the unnecessary grey borders surrounding every page’s thumbnail. Also unnecessary is that the Quit command’s keyboard shortcut (Command-Q) is disabled by default.

A majority of OS X users use Apple’s Safari as their browser because it is set by default. But Safari is also set by default to forget visited web pages after seven days. This is probably because the larger Safari’s history gets, the more sluggish the program becomes. BrowseBack solves the first problem, but suffers from the second. It typically uses more Real and Virtual RAM than Safari (a hog on its own) and in my usage slowed down regular web browsing.

It can also eat up quite a bit of disk space if you let it, because it stores the thumbnails on your hard drive. A side effect of storing the visited pages as individual files is that they are indexed by Tiger’s Spotlight. They will show up as results in the Documents grouping, but they cannot be opened because they are considered BrowseBack documents, not web location files.

There are a number of helpful preferences available that let you specify which browsers to watch, assign a hot key, limit disk usage and exclude URLs like your webmail.

BrowseBack is a very useful program for anyone that needs to search their web history, particularly if you use more than one browser. But its visual interface demands a lot of resources and I would only recommend it if you’ve got some to spare.


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