Parallel Desktops

LaunchBar as a Quicksilver replacement?

After my last blog post about Quicksilver I got a number of comments and e-mails from people indicating that Quicksilver was not going to be supported much longer and that the developer was working on other projects. I followed up on a lot of the links people provided to me and confirmed the following:

Nicholas Jitkoff (aka Alcor)—the original developer for Quicksilver—has released Quicksilver as an Open Source project. While Ankur Kothari has taken up development work on it and has made some significant improvements in performance and memory utilization, I now have some concerns about where Quicksilver is ultimately headed. This is in no small part due to Jitkoff indicating to LifeHacker that people should move to more stable and well supported alternatives like LaunchBar. As recently as June 2008 Jitkoff stated that he is not encouraging people to work on Quicksilver because he is planning on making it obsolete. He is working on a number of other projects and one that may well be a full replacement for Quicksilver. It was not clear if Quicksilver users would get a migration path with it or not.

When the author of one of your favorite applications recommends that you use a different product I generally think it’s a good idea to follow that advice. I already had a number of people recommend LaunchBar to me anyway so this seemed like as good a time as any to give it a spin.

LaunchBar does many of the things that Quicksilver is famous for doing. First and foremost it’s an application launcher. I can quickly launch my applications by activating LaunchBar (Command-Space is my preferred method) and then typing in a couple letters of the application I want to launch. Like Quicksilver it learns the abbreviations I use and after a brief period of time is pulling them up the way I expect them to.

In addition I can specify a document oriented application like Pages and then hit the right arrow and quickly select from the list of files. Since I spend a lot of time in the Terminal now I can also do a cool little action: activate LaunchBar, type in the name of the folder and then with it selected press Command-T. This launches a terminal window and sets the default folder at that location.

The Noun / Verb model of Quicksilver is also well represented in LaunchBar. I have a file sitting on my Desktop that I would like to send to my colleague Dan. I activate LaunchBar and type the first couple of letters of the file I want to send him. I then select it and hit Tab. Next I type "Dan" and my buddy’s address book entry comes up. I hit enter and I have a new message with the file attached and addressed to Dan.

Differences for Quicksilver users
Having just gotten used to Quicksilver there were a couple of things that required some adjustment. First off, I really liked that Quicksilver disappeared when I was not using it. LaunchBar on the other hand appears in my Dock bar while it is running, even in the background. While this is not a big problem it does mean that I can hit it with Command-Tab, which I sometimes use to bounce between applications. Fortunately LaunchBar always moves itself to the end of the list but I’d prefer that I can only get to it with the LaunchBar hotkey.

The second thing that threw me was when I started to enter the name of a file that I knew existed and it didn’t load up. I was sure it was there so I knew something was up. It turns out that the file (an Apple script) was parked in my Documents folder which was not indexed.

Specifying what to index was not where I expected it to be either: Preferences was no help. Turns out that there is a Configuration option that gives you complete control over what gets presented in the LaunchBar selection list. I just expected it to be under Preferences and didn’t notice the Configuration menu option.

Other than these little issues I was able to get LaunchBar to replace Quicksilver pretty easily. There is a huge advantage to using commercial software that you pay for and at $20 for home users ($39 for business users) the cost for this is pretty reasonable. The advantage? The authors are motivated to continue working on the product, making it compatible with new OS releases and popular applications.

For me switching to LaunchBar from Quicksilver was not that difficult because I hadn’t taken advantage of the plugin architecture of Quicksilver yet (other than the Clipboard module) and I hadn’t created any custom scripts around it. I’m not sure if hard core Quicksilver users will be able to adjust to it.

I’m still working out some of the kinks but fortunately the LaunchBar forums appear very active and should be a good resource.

By David Alison

I bought my first Mac almost 24 years ago when DOS ruled the world. I didn't keep it too long though. I was just kicking off my career as a software engineer and needed to go with PCs. I bought my 2nd Mac in February of 2008. I didn't expect that I would find myself using the machine as much as I have. It's not that I hate Windows (well, I pretty much hate Vista but XP is a fine OS), it's just that I find myself constantly playing with this machine.

I'll share with you here my experiences of making the move from Windows to Macintosh. I still have a foot in both worlds, hence the name of my section.