Computers

Bookmark can live even if the Web page dies

CorrespondentAugust 5, 2009 

How long does a Web page last on the Net? All too often we pull a collection of bookmarks together, only to find when doing research that one or more pages have disappeared since we noted them.

Both Evernote ( www.evernote.com) and Clipmarks ( www.clipmarks.com) are in the business of helping you make notes and save information, but you may also want to look at the new iCyte ( www.icyte.com). This is a free service that works as a browser toolbar in either Internet Explorer or Firefox, and it's at home on a PC or a Mac.

Highlight text on a Web page and you can then click the iCyte toolbar icon to save the information. The software saves the text, but it also archives the entire Web page in your iCyte collection.

iCyte's virtue is the power of its search and organizational tools combined with a straightforward user interface. The software also offers a collaborative feature that lets you work with others on research projects, contributing your own articles and seeing what others have come up with. With tools like these, the old browser "bookmark" metaphor is in danger of being rendered obsolete.

The days of Microsoft as the villain in antitrust proceedings may not be over, but competition is evidently emerging.

In fact, Christine Varney, who now heads the Justice Department's antitrust division, has recently been blunt in her assessment of Google as a dominant force that could potentially stifle competition. How? By taking full advantage of its enormous presence in the realm of cloud computing, where programs once solely on the desktop can now be used online. What emerges is an operating environment with an eerie similarity to what Microsoft has built on individual PCs.

Google recently announced that it would be releasing its own operating system this year. Evidently built around the Chrome browser running on top of Linux, the new software raises questions about how extensively Google might be able to track user actions and what kind of options it will offer to turn such tracking off.

But back to the cloud. We all have to weigh the advantages of using software against the danger of sharing information we consider private. On a recent trip to Italy, for example, I found Google's Gmail service to be a huge advantage. Gmail offered an interface I was familiar with and one that let me log in, receive and respond to my mail no matter where I happened to be or what kind of computer I was using at the time.

That's a powerful argument for Gmail, but it takes only a few minutes using the service to feel someone looking over your shoulder. Gmail's contextual advertising means that if I receive a message about astronomy, I'll get ads for telescopes alongside it. Contextual advertising involves going through my content to try to sell me things, and Google is a master at it.

So how comfortable are we with sharing this information with Google? For that matter, how comfortable are we with having our private e-mail stored potentially forever on someone else's machines? My solution is to use Gmail only for nonconfidential traffic, but it's an easy line to cross. And many people use services such as Google Calendar, listing their schedules, and Google Maps, whose related location services can use cell towers and Wi-Fi to tell where users are. See why Google is raising eyebrows?

We'll want to look at the new operating system with interest and, yes, with some caution.

gilster@mindspring.com

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