Someday, browsers will make it easy to retrace our Web steps by providing total recall of every page we've opened. Until then, we get the imperfect history features in Internet Explorer and Firefox.
They're imperfect because they seem to remember every page I've visited except the only one I actually need to return to. At least Firefox gives you a few more options for changing how it records your surfing history. With Internet Explorer, the only two options you get are to 1) change the number of days your history is stored and to 2) clear your history completely.
Tweaking Firefox's history settings
To adjust the history settings in Firefox, click Tools > Options > Privacy. Here, you can reset the number of days the browser remembers the sites you visit (the default is nine), or tell Firefox not to record the data you enter into forms and the search bar. You can also erase Firefox's memory of the files and programs you download. The default in both cases is to remember.
When you press Ctrl-Shift-Delete to clear Firefox's private data, you're shown seven options, five of which are selected. I usually just want to clear the cache--Gmail sometimes balks at downloading my in-box unless I clear out the browser's store of temporary files.
To change the defaults, reopen the Privacy Options, and click Settings in the Private Data section. Check the items you want to clear, uncheck those you don't, and click OK. The next time you open the Clear Private Data dialog box, your new defaults will be the only ones checked.
By default, Firefox shows up to 50 entries in each history folder. You can reduce Firefox's memory consumption (and possibly slow some page reloads) by reducing this entry via the browser's configuration options. Type about:config in the address bar, and press Enter. Scroll to and double-click browser.sessionhistory.max_entries, and enter the maximum number of pages you want Firefox to remember for each site you visit.
Internet Explorer's meager history options
When you click Tools > Delete Browsing History in Internet Explorer 7, you're given five options: Temporary Internet Files, Cookies, History, Form data, and Passwords. Or click "Delete all" to clear all five.
To change the number of days IE stores your browsing history, click Tools > Internet Options, click Settings under "Browsing history" on the General tab, and click the up or down arrows in the History section at the bottom of the resulting dialog box.
Tomorrow: a Firefox add-on that shows all the files downloaded by the current page.