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Shawn FitzGerald spends his spare time in front of his Mac trying to do constructive things, but usually ends up screwing around.

Web Squirrel
reviewed by Shawn FitzGerald

You've been using Netscape for three years or so, and before that you were using Mosaic. In the process, you have collected an obscene number of URLs: Email addresses, job leads, Web Oddities, and the occasional (but only occasional) naked supermodel. You have so many bookmarks that when you click on the menu, it takes three minutes to scroll to the last item. And, as we are all painfully aware, the most recent items you've marked (and therefore most likely to need to reference again), are at the bottom of the list.

Everyone who has been on vacation is undoubtedly aware of the tourist oriented flotsam that ends up coming home with you. Postcards, funny hats, rolls of undeveloped film, and bumper stickers become scattered throughout your car and luggage. Navigating the Web is like taking a vacation, but instead of traversing the country in a week of bathroom breaks and fast food, Web travelers hop from one end of the globe to the other in a matter of minutes. What is the conscientious Web traveler to do with all the junk?

Enter Web Squirrel; an organizer, travel agent, and scrapbook in one. Squirrel takes your messy collection of URLs and turns them into "Information Farms." When you use Squirrel, you are no longer a frenetic globe hopper, but an idyllic farmer tending a bumper crop of information seeds.

Each URL in Squirrel is given its own box, which sits on a customizable background. These boxes can be moved anywhere on the background, allowing you to organize your data into spatial clusters, called neighborhoods, and you can create as many neighborhoods as you need. If you have a particularly long list of related URLs, you can drop these boxes into a convenient pop-up list. This is particularly handy if your desktop real-estate is at a premium. Each neighborhood is given a title and border, so there is no confusion where each URL lives.

Web Squirrel supports a variety of add-on gizmos and extensions. Drag & Drop allows new sites and email addresses to be dropped into the Squirrel window, where they will exist as a new box. Squirrel also exports Apple HotSauce Meta Content Format (MCF) files, so you can create visual maps of your farms on the Web. Stairway Software's Internet Config tells Squirrel which application to load when an item is double-clicked. For example, double-clicking a newsgroup item will load your preferred news reader.

Squirrel also uses Agents to track the items in your information farm. These Agents are like mini-search engines that operate on your own farm file. They aren't going to go out and hunt down new URLs for you, but they do help manage very large farms with many entries. Agents are the most confusing piece of an otherwise simple program. Users with no knowledge of Boolean Operators are likely to be daunted by the AND, OR, NOT commands of Boolean logic. The documentation does a fairly good job of explaining how these things work within Squirrel. Anyone who has used the advanced commands available in search engines should have little trouble configuring an Agent in Squirrel. Again, the Agent function is powerful, though not likely to be of interest to people with relatively small collections of URLs.

The Skinny

Eastgate's Web Squirrel is a wonderful tool for people with large collections of URLs. The visual metaphor makes large, complex bookmark files easy to organize and deal with. People with large collections of URLs, especially ones that are added to frequently, will find Squirrel's Agents a helpful way of sorting new items. Squirrel supports many extensions and enhancing technologies, like Drag & Drop, and Internet Config. The documentation is sparse, yet concise.

I recommend Squirrel for anyone who has a large, unwieldy collection of URLs. Although novice users and those with small bookmark files are unlikely to benefit from Squirrel's advanced Agent functions.

The writer of this article welcomes your comments: