Sunday, December 11, 2011

Moving Bookmarks to the Start Menu

I was using Firefox 7.0.1 in Windows 7.  I had created a customized Start Menu that contained not only the shortcuts to installed programs, but also the full contents of portable programs.  I had saved that Start Menu to a drive other than drive C, so that it would survive if I reinstalled or upgraded Windows.  So then my preferred arrangement of shortcuts and programs in my customized Start Menu would also survive.  I could also carry it around on a USB thumb drive and use it on other computers, at least for my portables and for those installed programs that they had installed in the same (default) locations on drive C.

In Firefox, I had a lot of bookmarks. (If I'd had them in Internet Explorer or some other browser, I probably could have imported them into Firefox.)  I wasn't really happy with my existing bookmark arrangement.  It occurred to me that I could incorporate the bookmarks into my custom Start Menu.  That way, my bookmarks would be portable too, and my web-based tools would be in the same place as my installed and portable tools.  Within the Start Menu, I could then sort the web links into subfolders.  For instance, the ones that had to do with multimedia could go into the Multimedia folder along with my image editing programs.  This would eliminate the task of coordinating bookmarks among various browsers.  Also, when I discovered a cool new bit of freeware that I didn't actually need right then, I wouldn't have to download and keep a copy that would eventually become outdated, or that I would forget what it did or why I had ever downloaded it in the first place.  Instead, I could just put into my Start Menu a link to the webpage that explained the program.

There would be some drawbacks as well.  It might be harder to detect duplicates in some cases.  Also, I might have to drill down through more levels of a Start Menu than of a Bookmarks folder to get where I wanted to go.  Still, since my existing approach to bookmarks did not work, I decided the advantages of a new approach would probably outweigh the disadvantages.

I didn't want to convert my bookmarks into a single HTML file.  As I had previously learned, such a file would have required constant updating and rearrangement, so as to put links in the desired order.  To clarify, the idea was taht I would save the bookmarks as individual links (shortcuts) that I could see in Windows Explorer.

To make that happen, I tried using the Bookmarks manager in Firefox (Bookmarks > Show All Bookmarks).  I found that I could cut and paste, or drag, individual bookmarks from the manager (or from the Bookmarks toolbar) to the Start Menu in Windows Explorer.  But if I tried to move multiple bookmarks at once, it didn't work.  The manager didn't give me an option of exporting bookmarks as individual link files.  There also didn't seem to be any way of bulk-handling Bookmark subfolders containing bookmarks.  I searched and saw various suggestions and requests involving other browsers, but as far as I could tell neither Chrome, Opera, nor Internet Explorer had an option to mass-export favorites or bookmarks as individual URL files.  A search of Firefox add-ons yielded nothing.

Some of my bookmarks were years old.  Before exporting them, whether in bulk or individually, I wanted to verify that the bookmarked website was still active.  To do this, I used the CheckPlaces add-on.  I had to go into the Firefox > Tools > Add-Ons menu to run it.  Within maybe five minutes, it concluded that I had 4,325 bookmarks; and of those, it said I had 1,395 duplicates.  This was not a surprise; my bookmarks folder was a screwed-up accumulation of years of repeated attempts at organization.  I told CheckPlaces to delete all duplicates.  For the other errors it found, I canceled out and went back to the CheckPlaces starting menu.  I changed Concurrency from 10 to 5, in case my relatively slow Internet connection was producing false errors in attempts to reach webpages.  I turned off "Load favicons" and ran it again.  Oddly, it still found 1,395 duplicates within 4,325 total bookmarks.  There wasn't a user's manual.  It turned out that I had to click the OK button to make the deletion permanent.  I did that, and then ran CheckPlaces again.  This time, it found only 1,711 bookmarks.  That didn't add up.  When I told it to delete duplicates, did that mean it deleted all copies of a duplicated bookmark?  Just then, Xmarks popped up and told me that my set of bookmarks on the computer was significantly smaller than my backup set on their server -- but they said I now had 1,866 bookmarks, not 1,711.  I decided to download the Xmarks backup and start over with CheckPlaces, this time paying closer attention to what it was deleting.  Spot checks suggested that it had done the sensible thing and deleted duplicates, but not all copies -- that is, if A and B matched, it looked like it deleted only one of them, not both.  So that was good.  The larger-than-expected number of deletions appeared to be due to the fact that I had three or more copies of some bookmarks.  Next, the CheckPlaces list of supposedly "Questionable" websites seemed to called for manual inspection: some were indeed duds, but others weren't. But then it looked like a webpage had to return a 301 error in order to get onto that list; and I found that a 301 error meant that the page had been moved but that there would typically be a forwarding address. So I ran the option, in CheckPlaces, to Fix All 301s.  Spot checks (and the age of many links) also suggested that I might just go ahead and delete the ones that CheckPlaces had identified as Failed for one reason or another.  I reran CheckPlaces a couple of times, deleting a few more duplicates and failed links.  In my final run, my original set of 4,325 bookmarks had shrunk to 1,322 -- still a lot, but more manageable.

So I had somewhat shrunk my list of bookmarks.  But I still had the main problem of getting them from Firefox to Windows Explorer.  How was I going to do that?  I thought of opening the bookmarks and then copying from the History manager instead, but in Firefox 8.0.1 that behaved the same as the Bookmark manager. Another possibility might have been to go ahead and export the bookmarks to an HTML file, one per bookmark folder; use Snap Links or Multi Links to open all of the links on that page; and then drag the icon from the Firefox address bar to the appropriate Windows Explorer folder, for each webpage that opened successfully.

But then I discovered that the Firefox bookmark manager (Bookmarks > Show All Bookmarks) would allow me to do the same thing more easily.  For the bookmarks that were in the Bookmarks Toolbar, I could select a bunch of links within a folder, right-click on them, and choose Open All in Tabs.  This way, I could see what was in those webpages, and decide if I really needed to save a link to them (using the same approach of dragging the link to Windows Explorer).  Then I could delete those that I had opened, and thereby gradually whittle down the accumulated mess that my Firefox bookmarks had become.  If I wanted to have a list of bookmarks in Firefox, I would still have the option of recreating it by opening and bookmarking a bunch of links from the Start Menu.

So I dragged all my bookmarks to the Bookmarks Toolbar and began opening them and manually dragging links to a single folder that I called "Unsorted Bookmarks," from where I would further sort them into various places in my Start Menu.  I decided that I would probably do a better job of this if I did it gradually, sorting just a few bookmarks at a time, paying careful attention rather than racing through it.  So I added a line to a batch file that was scheduled to run regularly on my computer.  That line would open a Windows Explorer session focused on that Unsorted Bookmarks folder, as a reminder to me.  So now, every day or week or however often I had scheduled that batch file, that Windows Explorer session would be one of the things that would start up, reminding me that it was time to examine another 10 or 20 bookmarks in Firefox.  At this point, then, it seemed that the project was pretty clearly in view, and it would just take a while to finish.



Another approach: export the Firefox bookmarks to Internet Explorer and view them in C:\Users\Ray\Favorites (where "Ray" is your username). From that folder in Windows Explorer, they can easily be moved, renamed, etc.


A separate post describes the process of putting frequently used bookmarks on a webpage, toolbar, or dock that I could access from anywhere.