There’s no denying the Web’s value as a resource, but the temptation to quickly navigate from one site to the next makes it challenging to remember where the content was found.
A query on hotels in Italy might lead you to select a link about Florence, then two links about Michelangelo and four links to Italian Renaissance art. Suddenly, the home page for a carefully researched hotel is forgotten. It’s especially tough to backtrack through research using new sites with rich Web 2.0 features that display extra data directly within a Web page.
Some people try to organize Web research by opening Microsoft Word documents alongside their browsers. They copy and paste data from sites into the documents, but this is usually a messy process that traps users into wasting time fixing formats and deleting ads. Others press Print whenever a helpful site appears, resulting in wasted paper and ink. Savvier users create folders within their Web browsers that hold multiple URLs about a research topic, but these data can’t easily be shared or printed for use away from the PC.
The HP Smart Web Printing Software gathers Web content into one document that can be printed.
There’s a better way, and this week I took it for a spin. I tested the HP Smart Web Printing Software, a free program from Hewlett-Packard Co. that aims to help users compile a virtual clip book of content from Web sites while they’re browsing, within the same window. Using a tool in the browser, users highlight and copy images and text from a Web page and add them to the clip book. These clips can be edited, enhanced, saved as a PDF or printed out, without excess banner ads or sidebars.
I tried a version of this program that will be available for download at the end of next month from www.hp.com/go/smartwebprinting. It improves on the first version of the program (available now using the same URL) in various ways, including allowing you to add your own text to the clip book and crop clip-book items.
HP Smart Web Printing Software isn’t without its quirks: It only works on Windows computers, not Macs, and only with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 6.0 and 7.0. Not everything copies over to the clip book perfectly. Also, typed-in text has its limits: changing the font type, size or color of one word changes all words in the text box.
But all in all, I found this smart program to be a real boon. It’s unobtrusive enough to stay hidden until used, and you’ll remember how it works even if you only use the program once in a while. It functions as a printing assistant, helping to send certain sections of a Web site to the printer, and it will also save whatever you’re working on as a PDF — the universal format for sharing with others.
H-P likes to tout its HP Smart Web Printing Software’s environmentally friendly qualities, namely its ability to print just what you want, without wasting ink or paper on extra pages that would otherwise print. But make no mistake about it: This product, while helping users not to print extra items from Web sites, still encourages users to print, thus helping H-P sell more of its high-margin ink and paper.
I used the program to trim content from Web sites, printing more of what I wanted to read in fewer pages. I focused on this program’s clip-book functionality, which works as a bare-bones virtual scrapbook to organize research.
I downloaded and used the newest version of this free program on computers running Windows Vista and XP operating systems. I came across a few items that, when highlighted and moved over to the clip book, didn’t actually move, but most of the text and image clips moved without a problem. H-P explained that some images are rendered on Web sites in such a way so as to not be copied for copyright and protection purposes.
A small HP Smart Select icon appears in the Internet Explorer command bar after this program is downloaded; selecting it toggles its highlighting capability on or off. By default, the clip book is hidden from view, but a quick change in settings opens this on the right edge of the Internet Explorer window.
The HP Smart Web Printing program proved useful for online-shopping research. I’ve been gathering a lot of information from various Web sites to find a special new handbag for work, including which bag is sold where, how much it costs and what it looks like.
When I saw a bag that interested me, I selected it by holding the left mouse button down and moving my cursor over the text or image. Releasing the left mouse button automatically opens a tiny drop-down menu with two simple options: clip (place in the clip book) or print (send directly to the printer). Items that I clipped were moved into the right panel clip book in order of most recently added items at the top.
A helpful checkbox appeared beside each item in the clip book; items without checkmarked boxes weren’t visible when I edited clips. Within the editing screen, I dragged and dropped images around the page, organizing bags in ascending price order. I resized photos to make them smaller or larger and cropped a couple shots such as an image of a black leather bag with an unrelated text description below it.
I filled the equivalent of two clip-book pages with images of bags and brief descriptions of each, copied directly from store sites. I added my own text boxes in to write my impressions. As I worked, opening the edit screen and closing it to return to the browser, I clicked on a simple Save button so my work wouldn’t be lost each time I closed this screen. When finished, I selected one button to save the document as a PDF, which I could email to friends for their feedback on which bag they liked best.
In another test, I assembled a clip book filled with various news blurbs about presidential campaigns from online sites including WSJ.com and CNN.com before printing a single page that included bits and pieces from each in a neat format without ads on the page.
I also tried organizing a few maps in the clip book; these copied from Google Maps and Yahoo Maps without a problem, and in one instance I cropped a map to include just the section of Manhattan where The Wall Street Journal is located.
The more I used this program, the more I wished it offered the ability to work with two clip books at once. For instance, if I was planning a trip and was researching hotels and tourist attractions at the same time, I could clip the hotel data into one book and store the touristy information in the other.
H-P says it will release a version of this program for Mozilla’s Firefox browser sometime in the next six months, and it also hopes to introduce a version that is compatible with Apple’s Safari browser within a year.
The HP Smart Web Printing program is a useful free solution that organizes online research right in your browser. Its ability to modify and preview documents before printing is also a help.