Browsing into the past on the Mac

BrowseBack has great features for searching through your browser history, yet slow archiving and overall sluggishness may make you want to wait for a later version of an otherwise good idea.

Have you ever wanted to browse a Web page you saw a few weeks ago, but gave up after spending too long sifting through your browser history? Maybe you found some information on a site about a particular subject you wanted to revisit, but numerous searches have turned up nothing. I discovered a program recently which helps with this very problem and also offers some other cool features that just about anyone might find useful. Unfortunately, the program is not without its problems.

Mousing over a page brings up an information window with all the specifics. (Credit: CNET Networks)

Browseback, from developers SmileOnMyMac, takes your Web history and organizes it visually with thumbnails, so you can see all the sites you've visited. The program organizes your history into three rows of 30 thumbnails each, stacked next to each other like a fanned-out deck of cards. Mousing over each thumbnail produces an effect much like Apple's Dock when you have magnification turned on--you get a slightly closer view of each page, making it a little easier to identify. Double-clicking on a thumbnail page brings the page up in your default browser (BrowseBack supports most of the popular Mac browsers) for viewing.

Clicking on a thumbnail brings up a menu of actions you can take with each Web page (Credit: CNET Networks)

The other features in BrowseBack revolve around what to do with these Web pages once you've found them. You can save Web pages to your hard drive to view later; e-mail an interesting Web page to a friend; print the Web page; or save the page as a PDF file. To complete any of these actions, you only need to click the thumbnail once to bring up a small menu, or simply right-click it with your mouse. One of the best features is the ability to search your entire archive by a specific keyword using the search box--very helpful for finding info about a specific subject across your browser's history.

Having a search box for keywords is especially handy when searching a large Web history (Credit: CNET Networks)

Clearly having this much flexibility would come in handy for Internet research, shopping on Web sites, or merely to find a site you can't quite remember, like I mentioned above. Unfortunately, while it is useful, BrowseBack has a couple of issues that may make it less than desirable.

One problem is the time it takes to archive your browser history. You are given the option to archive your entire history; beginning from a specific date; or between two dates that you specify. If you choose your entire history, it could take hours to archive all of those pages. Another problem is that even with only a little over 30 thumbnails, BrowseBack seemed sluggish on our test machine, but faster machines would probably have less problems.

Aside from the slow archiving and sluggishness on older machines, we have to wonder what the audience is for this type of application. It would be extremely useful for Web research, studying, and shopping like I mentioned above, but beyond that, it's my experience that I can find just about anything using regular browser (or Web-based) search features. Overall, BrowseBack is a great concept for those who need to sift through their history, but unless you have a specific need, I would wait a couple of versions until the developers streamline the process.

What do you think? Do you have need for this type of application? Is it too slow for you or just right? Let me know in the comments!

About Jason Parker

Jason Parker has been at CNET for more than 13 years. He is the Senior Editor in charge iOS software and has become an expert reviewer of the software that runs on each new Apple device. He now spends most of his time covering Apple iOS releases and third-party apps.