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Taking Quicksilver for a spin

I've now been blogging about my Mac experience for nearly four months. In that time I've had one product consistently recommended to me by the readers of this blog: Quicksilver. Initially I was getting so many recommendations for different products to try that I couldn't keep track of all of them and Quicksilver was one I would get to "some day".

As the weeks went by I continued to get Quicksilver recommendations. Finally I decided to look into it a bit more. I went to the web site and started to poke around. I scanned through a couple of tutorials and was basically a bit overwhelmed - while Quicksilver could be used as a simple Spotlight replacement it also had a huge number of plugins that would provide enhanced functionality. I like my Mac because it's simple, not complicated, and Quicksilver looked like it would take a fair amount of work to just get configured properly. I watched a screen cast from a now defunct web site that contained 10 minutes of a fast talking walk through just to get Quicksilver installed and configured and that reinforced it for me.

Back to the shelf for Quicksilver.

Well, not long after I wrote my last post about Spotlight I started to have second thoughts about using it. I've now seen my Spotlight index get corrupted 3 times. If you are using Spotlight for searches - which is what it's designed to do - and it can't find what you are looking for then you can assume one of two things: either the item doesn't exist or your Spotlight index is corrupt. Since both of those situations give the same results it's hard to trust Spotlight. As Pecos Bill noted in some recent comments, hopefully this will be addressed in 10.5.3.

Instead of waiting around for that possible event I decided to give Quicksilver one more try. My initial goals are not very ambitious; allow me to quickly launch applications without touching the mouse, find documents that I have on my local hard drive and search through recent browser history. I know Quicksilver can do a lot more than that but for my purposes all I really wanted to do was replace Spotlight for now. Once mastered I'll look into using more functionality.

Launching Applications
This was about as easy as it gets. Quicksilver is FAST; it loads quickly and has this uncanny ability to present the application I want to run after 2-3 letters. The text model is a little different than Spotlight since the letters you type will disappear after a second - there is not a text entry field. Make a mistake? Hit backspace just once and everything you type up until that point is gone. In practice this is not an issue for application launching - at least not for me - because it always seems to find the right app.

Searching for Documents and Browser History
Again, the results I received were nearly identical to the way Spotlight worked for me. It quickly found the documents I was searching for provided they were in my list of "watched" folders. Searching for documents is a bit odd without a dedicated search box though. Any fat fingering of the search string and it's time for a do-over. I'm also finding that if I hit a period while in the middle of a query the searching stops and the only way to get back into search mode is to hit the Quicksilver activation keys twice (close and reopen). 

There are clearly some quirks to work through here but I can see the value in this.

Bonus feature - the clipboard history
There was one plugin that I did try out and start to use - the Clipboard History manager. This little gem will keep track of the last X items (I have mine set to 9) you copied to your clipboard and allow you to select and paste them easily. I simply activate Quicksilver and then hit Command-L. Up popped my list of recently copied items; all I need to do is double click on an item from that list and it's pasted into the focused window below or press the number next to the item on the list. Very handy.

In summary Quicksilver looks to be a blessing to people that simply love to use the keyboard. If you are keyboard inclined at all and would like an alternative to touching the mouse when doing all but simple transitions between applications then Quicksilver looks like it can be quite powerful.

15 comments:

Karl Otto Henriksen said...

I installed QS three or four times before it got it's place in my app folder. now it's there to stay. bit of a steep learning curve, but now that i'm addicted to it i just have to have it. browsing files would never be such fun without :)

Anonymous said...

The address book integration is also cool. type a name, press right arrow select phone number press enter.

I never use it for docs, mostly for apps and names. One neath thing is grab a document (.txt) while you have is grabed, press the QS activation and type the name of a text capable application. when the application is visible in QS drop the document onto it.... just amazing. Try that on a PEEZEEE....

Anonymous said...

I tend to turn off "show other matches" in the "command preferences" I don't like the flickering. As soon as I need the other matches I just press arrow down.... less flickering on the screen and QS almost always takes the right apps after some training....

Ryan Bell said...

You've probably looked into this already, but if you find QuickSilver intimidating or overly complex, I recommend LaunchBar. It's not as extensible or as free, but it's focused, simple, at least as good at finding apps (with two or three letters), and there's not much setup required. It has pretty smart defaults that just work out of the box.

http://www.obdev.at/products/launchbar/index.html

Michelle Gill said...

Just in case you aren't aware of this, the original developer has ceased working on Quicksilver. However, the project has been picked up by Ankur Kothari. On his website, he has an experimental build that seems to use much less memory and (on my computer at least) has fixed a number of crashes. You can download the latest build (at your own risk) here: http://lipidity.com/software/quicksilver/

You can read about the progress on his blog at: http://lipidity.com

I recommend donating to the developer if you use his Quicksilver builds to encourage him to keep up the great work.

ping said...

MacOS X 10.5.3 has just gone online.

My MacBook Pro is running it already with no discernible negative effects.

David Alison said...

@Ping: I saw that come across the news feeds. Do you use Software Update or the manual installer? For those interested in what's new, here is a link.

ping said...

I have SoftwareUpdate on a daily schedule. But if I should read about a new update before it automatically tells me about it, I simply kick off a manual check in the Software Update preference pane and then let it run its course (after carefully examining what it's about, of course).

Downloading the updates manually is just more work without a benefit for me. But it may be a different thing when you've got ten or a hundred machines on site...

David Alison said...

Thanks Ping - that's what I did with my only update to date (10.5.2). I've got it auto-installing on my MacBook right now, all 420MB of it. I saw one update to Spotlight but it doesn't look like they are addressing the corrupting index issue. Time will tell.

Hendrik said...

The coolest thing about Quicksilver is that it adapts to you over time. Say you want to use 'ff' to launch Firefox. The first time it will probably be far down in the list of matches. But once you select it once or twice then Firefox will be the first result for 'ff' until you start frequently selecting something else from the list for that shortcut.
It is an amazingly effective way of configuring your personal shortcuts automatically just by using them.

While the UI for actually using Quicksilver is absolutely amazing, the preferences UI is really quite horrible. I think I know the screencast you are talking about and it definitely shows the ugly sides of the program.

I loved the multiple Clipboard functionality but I had problems with it on Leopard and replaced it with PHPasteboard (free and works fine).

Michelle Gill said...

@hendrik, I'm not sure exactly what you're using the clipboard for, but I have found it to work fine (for my purposes at least) when using the build by Ankur that I mentioned above.

Hendrik said...

@michelle: I tried the Ankur build a while ago but it broke other things for me. I can't remember what right now, but it was something I couldn't live without. Triggers maybe?
If he comes out with another build I'll give it another try.

Michelle Gill said...

@hendrik,
Triggers work fine, but the file tagging module is broken. I had a few initial crashes until I deleted all my preferences and then reloaded them. Everything has worked fine since then (I don't use file tagging though). I should have mentioned this in my initial post.

bleach1st said...

hmmmm i've also heard alot about quicksilver but never have cause it sounded too complicated but your explanation sounds useful... i hate going in to the applications folder to find stuff... I might just give it a try :D

Joon said...

As Ryan mentioned, try out Launchbar. I've switched between the two a couple of times but I always came back to it.

Although QS has more flexibility, LB can do many things, it's less obtrusive and more focused on its purpose.