Synchronizing Your Bookmarks on All Your PCs

[via ptech.allthingsd]

Lots of people now have multiple computers, at home and at work, and many use more than one Web browser. That makes it hard to keep bookmarks straight. If, for instance, you bookmark a Web site as a “Favorite” on your PC at work using Microsoft’s (MSFT) Internet Explorer, it doesn’t automatically show up as a bookmark in Apple’s (AAPL) Safari browser on your Macintosh at home.

But I’ve been testing a new, free program, available now, that aims to solve this problem. It synchronizes your bookmarks automatically among all your computers, Windows or Mac, and across all the main brands of Web browsers — Internet Explorer, Safari and Mozilla’s Firefox. On PCs running Windows XP or Vista, it works with Internet Explorer and Firefox. On Macs, it works with Safari and Firefox.

The program is called Foxmarks, and it’s from a San Francisco company of the same name. The Foxmarks software has been around since 2006, but worked only with the Firefox browser — hence the name. Yet Firefox isn’t the dominant choice on either Windows or Mac. So the company decided to expand the product to Internet Explorer, which is the built-in browser on Windows (and thus No. 1 in the world) and Safari, which is the built-in browser on Mac.

This new version, available for download at, doesn’t merely synchronize your bookmarks between copies of the same browser. It synchronizes them between different browser brands, even if some are running on Windows PCs and some on Macs.

In my tests, Foxmarks worked well, with a few minor caveats. After using it for five days, I now have exactly the same set of bookmarks (or Favorites, in Internet Explorer’s parlance), arranged in the same order, on multiple computers — Windows and Mac — in a total of 12 different copies of Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari.

There’s a different version of Foxmarks customized for each of the three main browsers, but each talks to the same password-protected Web account, which contains the latest version of your bookmarks. When you add, delete, rename or rearrange any bookmark in any browser on any of your computers, the Foxmarks software sends the change up to the Web account. Then, the next time any of your other browsers checks with the Web account, it receives the change.

For example, in my tests, I bookmarked a Wikipedia article in Firefox on my Dell (DELL) running Windows Vista. Foxmarks then caused that same new bookmark to appear in Internet Explorer on the same Dell, and in both Firefox and Safari on my Apple Macintosh computer. And, on each machine, the new bookmark for the Wikipedia article was in the same location.

In another case, I changed the order of two bookmarks in the Bookmarks Bar in Safari on one of my Macs, and the same re-ordering was replicated on a Windows PC in the Links Toolbar of IE and in the Bookmarks Toolbar of Firefox.

If you don’t want exactly the same set of bookmarks on all your machines, you can set up different profiles with different bookmarks for your work and home computers.

You can access the password-protected Web site containing your bookmarks from any PC, even if it isn’t one of yours, and can view a customized version of this site via the browser on an iPhone or other smart phone. You can even set up a mobile profile that will show you just a subset of your bookmarks in your phone’s Web browser, though you can’t sync bookmarks to and from a phone.

From the Web, you can alter your bookmarks, and these changes will then be pushed down to the browsers on your computers. You also can share bookmarks with others via email or an RSS feed.

There are other Web-based repositories of bookmarks, notably a service called Delicious. But none that I know of automatically synchronizes bookmarks among browsers and computers, which is the main function of Foxmarks.

Foxmarks has another feature: It can also sync stored passwords for Web sites you frequently visit. But this trick works only in Firefox, and in my tests didn’t work properly all the time.

The software has a few other limitations and glitches. The Internet Explorer version is still labeled a beta, or test, version because it still produces occasional syncing errors, especially in Vista. That was true in my tests, and I’d be wary of using it with Vista, though it performed solidly in Windows XP. It works reliably only with Internet Explorer 6 or 7, not the pre-release version of Internet Explorer 8, which the company isn’t yet supporting.

On the Mac, Foxmarks works only with the current Leopard version of the operating system and the current version 3 of Safari. It doesn’t work with the Windows version of Safari.

And syncing isn’t instant. It can take as long as an hour for each computer to check with the Web site and get the changes.

The company plans to keep Foxmarks free, but is hoping to make money from future, unspecified products.

Foxmarks is a clever, well-done product that can help users of multiple computers and multiple browsers to keep their Web lives in order.

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