Adding Quicksilver to your Mac

My friend Dylan—one of the guys that got me to consider a Mac in the first place—asked me the other day why I liked Quicksilver.

"I don't see what I can get from it that I don't get from Spotlight".

Given the relatively steep learning curve that Quicksilver can have I understand why Dylan feels that way; I experienced nearly the same thing myself when I first tried using QuickSilver. Because Quicksilver is so powerful and has so many options I think people are either too intimidated to use it or simply don't see how they will get that much value out of it.

I see a lot of similarities between using Quicksilver over other methods (Finder/Spotlight/Dock/etc) and switching to Mac from Windows. When I was considering the switch to Mac and asking Mac users about their machines they would tell me enlightening things like "it just works" or "it's so easy". Rarely did people give me hard, specific reasons that made me say "Oh wow, I gotta get me some of that!"

I didn't fully appreciate the Mac until I had my own sitting in front of me and even then it wasn't until a couple of months in that I really felt confident enough with the machine to switch over to it and walk away from Windows. It just took a little time to grow on me. Quicksilver is the same way.

How I learned to adopt Quicksilver
I've been able to get into Quicksilver because I used it purely as an application launcher at first. Command-Space would pull it up, I'd type in the first couple letters of the application I wanted to run and boom, there it was. It was quick, simple and unimpressive. Spotlight did basically the same thing.

What happened though was that after a couple of weeks it got better and better at finding the application I wanted to run. The applications I used most frequently only required a couple of letters (T pulled up Terminal, TEX pulled up TextMate—not TextEdit, etc). After a couple of weeks I noticed that I wasn't even thinking about the application I was loading; I was barely even looking at the display to confirm I had the right application because it always got it right.

It was at this point that I started to leverage the fact that I could perform actions on the things I was working with. I would activate Quicksilver, enter "PA" and see the icon for Pages, then hit the Right Arrow and see a list of the documents I had recently opened. Instead of opening Pages, then selecting the File / Open Recent menu list, I was able to select them right at launch. Sure, I could have typed in the name of the file and launched it directly but I often remember things based on the context. I knew it was a Pages document, I just wasn't sure what I named the thing. Seeing it associated with Pages locked it in for me.

I'm now starting to really explore some of the cool things that Quicksilver can do for me.

Still not convinced?
One of the readers of this blog—Jon—pointed me towards one of the best high level views of how cool Quicksilver can be. It was done by Merlin Mann a couple of years ago for MacBreak. I've watched perhaps half a dozen tutorials on Quicksilver that give you a sense of how to set it up but Merlin's tutorial presents it from the standpoint of how you can get the most out of this application. If you are still struggling to understand why you should even use Quicksilver then check out his video.

Needless to say I've become a big fan of Quicksilver.


Roland Dobbins said...

Given that Alcor isn't updating QuickSilver anymore, some problems have started to creep up with new apps - specifically, the change of the FireFox 3 bookmarks file format has meant that QuickSilver by default can no longer index your bookmarks.

Here's a workaround:

Anonymous said...

See also:


Josso said...

The Apple Blog, have also a nice tutorials of Quicksilver...

This is the "beginner guide". :)

Partners in Grime said...

Okay, I downloaded a new version of Quicksilver the other day. I'll install it now and give it a whirl. Thanks for the provided links too.

Michelle Gill said...

@roland dobbins:
Though Alcor is no longer updating QuickSilver, someone else has taken over, at least temporarily. He has released one update and, according to his blog, is continuing to work on the memory footprint. The blog which covers Ankur's progress:

The current version he has released:

I do not regularly use Firefox (so I haven't tested it on FF3 bookmarks), but you might be able to coerce Ankur into making sure that feature works. He does not have Leopard so some of the Leopard specific skins (BezelHUD) do not work, but this is a purely cosmetic issue.

cjlacz said...

Try Launchbar. I kept trying Quicksilver, but it's just awkward compared to Launchbar. I hate having to go to certain categories before being able to search for items in Quicksilver. LB is smarter and more intuitive.

Tod said...

Arrgh! Yet another "how QS changed my life" blog post. Oops, I take that back. David, this post actually speaks to me and has me thinking I ought to go back and give QS a 3rd or 4th try after checking the tutorial you mention.

QS is much more than an application launcher.

For a nice and simple app launcher, check out Sapiens ($20 at I am getting quite used to mouse-gesture-based applications and like the simple yet effective UI of Sapiens.

James Katt said...

The problem of Quicksilver is that it is no longer updated by the author. Over time, it is becoming more unstable.

Quicksilver is a great idea but over time, it has become unwieldy, almost having too many features to manage, bloated, and difficult to update.

This is why the original author stopped developing it.

He recommended LaunchBar as a replacement - particularly as newer versions of Mac OS X make Quicksilver become even more unstable.

Ideally, Apple should improve Spotlight to have the capabilities of QuickSilver.

I, myself, am highly visual. Thus Quicksilver's keyboard centricity never appealed to me - after several tries.

I prefer organizing files in logical folders and keeping the most used applications on the dock or on a hierarchically organized favorites folder, for easy access. Since I use hundreds of Apps, this is the quickest visual way to access them. I prefer not having to think of their names or typing their names. I prefer selecting them from menues or clicking on their icons.

With tens of thousands of files, I prefer to organize them in logical folders which are then much easier to search by hand - rather than the hodgepodge that Spotlight or Quicksilver encourages.

wakes said...

Specifically because it was not a built-in product, and as an early Mac adopter, I chose not to get into Quicksilver.

Instead I chose to look at a combination of Automations and the good old terminal to achieve things.

The first (automator), is impenetrable at first, from a non-mac coding perspective, so, if you please, can you go hard-core on that instead?

That would be lovaly.

David Alison said...

@James: Being relatively new to Quicksilver I wasn't aware that it was not actively being developed. I'm going to check out LaunchBar soon.

When under Windows I used to do much what you do; organize my Start menu very rigorously, kept my documents in a highly ordered model, etc. Rare was the time I could not find something.

When I switched to Mac I decided to approach it differently, letting the computer find what I needed and trying not to do all the work myself. I found myself using the keyboard a lot more (it helps that I am a touch typist). Now I can find virtually anything I could in the past yet I don't have all of those maintenance tasks to perform.

Regardless of whether it's Quicksilver, LaunchBar or just Spotlight I don't think I could go back now that I've tasted having the computer find everything for me.

wakes said...

And could you say something about the Services which seem to be ubiquitously available in apps but seem, everywhere I go, to be disabled?

Anonymous said...

This interview is where the QuickSilver developer announced that he stopped development of the current version and recommends users to switch to Launchbar.

Anonymous said...

Latest forum post from QuickSilver developer (from June 3rd)

Jon said...

Apparently there's still a bit of hope for the Quicksilver faithful.

43Folders has a bit of an update. It appears as though A1c0r is in the process of a complete rewrite of QS's frameworks. Granted, this is likely a stopgap measure, as A1c0r himself has said that he ultimately intends to make QS obsolete.

Personally, I look forward to seeing what he comes up with.

David Alison said...

@Jon: Thanks for the link. Not sure where all of this is going to go so I've decided to give LaunchBar a shot. So far, so good.