Hawkscope is a cross-platform, open-source project that provides alternative navigation through your files for Windows, Mac, and Linux. Still in beta, it's also extensible, so not only can you jump folders in a zippy, context menu-style tree, but you can search Google, check your Gmail, and post to your Twitter account from the Hawkscope interface.

Hawkscope provides menu-based file navigation. (Credit: Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

Hawkscope appears as a hawk icon just next to your clock, so that's the system tray for Windows and the menu bar for Macs. For users with dark themes, the icon might be hard to see--look for an empty spot in between other icons. Click on it to make the menu appear, and you'll find pre-loaded options such as your profile folder, your local drive and any networked or external drives, and a Settings menu near the bottom. The menu is divided into the Quick Access list at the top, file system roots in the middle, and the Hawkscope menu at the bottom.

From Settings, you can customize much of the program. The General tab configures the icon theme independent of your operating system, a neat if simple little trick. The next tab, Quick Access, lets you add, remove, and reorder folders that appear at the very top of the Hawkscope menu. In my screenshot, you can see that I've set Blogs and Reviews and My Pictures to show up there. The Blacklist tab prevents certain folders or file types from appearing, while Network configures a proxy if you need one.

Plugins is the following tab, and that's where Hawkscope starts to get interesting. As you can see from my screenshot, I've added the Gmail and search Google plugins. Hit the Get Plugins button to open up the Hawkscope plugins Web page, and download any of the plugins that interest you into the Hawkscope plugin folder. Once you've clicked the Reload Plugins button, you should see what you've just installed in your plugin list. Hit OK and they should appear at the top of the main Hawkscope navigation.

Hawkscope provides users with useful system integration, including proxies and custom configuration. (Credit: Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

The Gmail plugin shows all your new e-mail in a drop-down list, which is tolerable but overwhelming when you've got a large number of them. Click on one to open it in a new browser window. I noticed that the plugin has problems switching between Gmail accounts, and--somewhat scarily, for secuity reasons--kept accessing one account, even when the user name and password had been replaced by another account.

The Search Google plugin works better, with a desktop-based search field that opens for you to enter your query. Hit Enter and it opens a new Web page with your Google search results. Currently, the small list of plug-ins supports two others that I didn't test: Tweeting from Hawkscope, and executing commands from the main menu.

I like that Hawkscope is taking another look at reinvigorating the context menu format, but the way it's done feels awkward at times. If you have a deep tree of folders and you haven't pre-programmed your most commonly-used ones to the Quick Access menu, it can take a lot of time to find what you're looking for. Hawkscope would be more useful, too, were it hot key accessible. Keyboard junkies could pull up the menu with quick combo and then use the arrow keys to maneuver. As it stands, it's an interesting way of browsing your files, but mostly because it's available on the major operating systems.