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.


Quix said...

The comment about Alcor intending to make Quicksilver obsolete seems to be contradicted by this comment a few weeks later:

"the creator of Quicksilver (Alcor) is working on a complete re-write of the frameworks of Quicksilver and should hopefully release it soon"

What is the truth? I have no idea. I would sure hate to see Quicksilver fade into oblivion though. It's a tremendous OS X addition.

David Alison said...

@Quix: I really love Quicksilver and would like to see development on it continue but at this point I can only go by what Alcor has said. The fact that LaunchBar is pretty capable and commercially supported means I should be able to count on it moving forward too.

That's not to say I wouldn't reconsider Quicksilver (or whatever Alcor ultimately releases) when it's available.

Anonymous said...

Quicksilver continues to do its work just fine for me. I'll continue using it as long as possible. Who knows. It may be better than whatever the phantom Alcor plans. LaunchBar will be there (probably) when and if it's needed.

larrinski said...

I will keep using Quicksilver until it doesn't work anymore. I don't use a huge amount of plugins, and none of the ones I use are broken, so the old adage of "don't fix what isn't broken" works for me right now. I have been using Quicksilver for a couple of years and don't see the reason to switch just yet...

I have played with the demo of Launchbar, but it didn't wow me. It may seem picky, but I like my UI to be in the middle of the screen, not up at the top. Let me customize the UI and I may consider it...

Hendrik said...

The LaunchBar documentation has a section describing how to get rid of the dock icon (and Cmd-Tab icon). It is in the "Tips&Tricks" section at the very bottom.

Hendrik said...

Also, take a look at the free PTHPasteboard as a replacement for Quicksilver's multiple clipboard and shelf.

Ben said...

I absolutely *love* Launchbar. it's the one utility I almost can't use a Mac without, and is the first thing I install.

I've *tried* to like Quicksilver, and I understand it has some great features, but compared to the elegance of Launchbar, it never felt right.

Launchbar does exactly what I need - lets me launch stuff, lets me send files from the finder to applications, lets me quickly search safari history and other items, lets me use search templates to quickly run web searches in popular website resources, and so much more, without getting in the way.

For me, Launchbar is a Mac's best friend, and absolutely *essential*...

Andrew Faden said...

Funny, I almost left a comment in your last post on Quicksilver about my return to LaunchBar after using Quicksilver for a while.

I'd been using LaunchBar since the beta of version 4 back in 2004, but I really liked a few of the Quicksilver plugins, so I switched.

A few months ago, I got tired of the instability of QS on my machine (I assume that various incompatibilities introduced by Leopard and by apps after the last QS release were to blame). I switched back to LaunchBar, and I'm still very happy with LaunchBar.

I've realized that the features I used most in QS (app launch, Spotlight, Google, IMDB, etc. searches) were implemented just as well (or better) in LaunchBar, and that the other features (e.g., e-mailing the selected file) I didn't use much anyway.

Don said...

Have you ever tried Butler?

Pretty nice and it's donation ware.

nonjo said...

It's pretty sharp in that it will run applescripts (without your having to save them as applications). I switched from Launchbar to QS, but got back into Launchbar after Alcor recommended switching away. The memory footprint is lower, too.

tmilovan said...

Right now there are some fresh betas on googlecode page of Quicksilver, Some news builds and new version in preparation.

Anonymous said...

A quick note for larrinski, if he/she is still reading ...

but I like my UI to be in the middle of the screen, not up at the top. Let me customize the UI and I may consider it...

Press Ctrl-Space (or whatever you have it set to) to invoke Launchbar, click on the Launchbar and drag it to the middle of your screen, where it will now appear each time it is invoked, until you drag it somewhere else.

There ya go ... now you may consider it ... :-)

sd said...

"There is a huge advantage to using commercial software that you pay for "
I completely disagree. For instance Unsanity's shareware is still not updated for Leopard:

And I have a lot of freeware developed by guys that love programming and provide updates as soon as needed...

pardo said...

David -

I still don't understand why spotlight - included with the OS - is not a better option. Why should anyone PAY for something that is included already?

I have been pretty down on QS since I got my MBP last month. I didn't get the value until I watched a few videos to understand it more.

What is so different about LB over spotlight? Maybe that could be another blog post for you.

David Alison said...

@SD: The advantage? The authors are motivated to continue working on the product, making it compatible with new OS releases and popular applications.

My statement is indeed a generalization but I stand behind it. If a company makes a living at something and it's a major product line you stand a better chance of getting updates to that product than you do if you are counting on people doing it purely for passion. One day that person simply decides they are passionate about something else and they move on to the next thing.

There are of course exceptions to that but having been in software development as long as I have I found that people care most when their livelihood depends on the product they produce.

@Pardo: The biggest difference is the context. With Spotlight I find an object and execute it: an application, a document, etc. With QS and LB I can perform different actions on the object instead of just the default. The other reason—the one that bothers me most with Spotlight—is that the index can become corrupt and sometimes it simply cannot find the application or document that you know is there. That reliability is a killer for me and it's happened just often enough for me to lose confidence that it is actually working.

If you don't have a problem with Spotlight's index becoming corrupt (maybe I'm just unlucky) and the concept of Noun/Verb actions on items doesn't give you any real value then Spotlight is great.

Erik Fisher said...

Quicksilver isn't dying.

pardo said...

David -

The noun/verb concept was lost on me until I saw it in action in a QS video - going to look at the LB one now and see what it does.

BTW - I agree completely with the notion of wanting to switch when the "official" support decides to move on. So far, the concept of paying for apps (ones I consider not major apps), has been hard to swallow BUT I am seeing how the commercial vs. free often times is better. 1password for example.

Thanks again for your insightful posts.

jehrler said...

After reading your blog and lamenting QS, I decided to take another look at both LaunchBar and Butler.

I've always loved the software that Peter makes and, in the end, I've decided to give Butler an extended test.

He is working hard on Butler 5, a "major" update but I'm finding 4 has more flexibility than I remembered though setting it up is doesn't come set up to automatically catalog your documents folder, for example, though it does, of course, catalog your apps.

Ben said...

pardo wrote:

"I still don't understand why spotlight - included with the OS - is not a better option."

Because you don't understand the cool, easy things Launchbar can do that Spotlight cannot.

There are lots of these (take a look at the docs) but I will give you some of my favourites other than app/file launching.

Search templates
Let's say I want to do a google image search. Instead of running Safari, waiting for it to open, opening a bookmark, waiting for it to load, typing my search time and hitting go, I do as follows (in about a fifth of a second):

Command space. Type "gim" (for google images, but remember you use whatever letters you want, Launchbar learns from you what it should do). Anyway, I type gim then space, then my search term and return, and bang, up comes Safari with the search results.

So that's command space gim space country for a google image search on "country"

I have lots of sarch templates (Launchbar comes with a whole bunch) for things like IMDB, TV episode guides, stockphoto libraries and so on - anything I regularly search with.

Sending files to apps
Another cool feature. I'm working in the finder on my files, and I have a bunch of images I want to load in Photoshop. I could open Photoshop and load them normally, or I could drag them to a Photoshop icon on my dock (if I had one - I don't use the dock at all, hate it in fact.)

In this case, I select them, command space, type ps (my command for photoshop) and hold down the last letter. Launchbar sends those selected files to Photoshop.

I send files to applications constantly using this method, it's brilliant. Holding down the key "picks up" the files, launches the app and sends those files to it.

Safari history
command space sh, and you can now browser your safari history by day using the cursor keys, or peform searches within the history this to quickly find that site you visited last week but forget what it was called.

In Mail, I select my spam mails, command space kn and those mails are sent to Knujon for spam bashing.

Seriously - Spotlight is a decent file finder, and some will use it as an application launcher, but it's not a patch on Launchbar.

As ever with these things, you often don't see the need when it involves changing a workflow you didn't realise was "broken". But once you work with it, it becomes indispensable and you can't dream of using anything without it.

Going to the dock, eyeballing the app you want amongts the long row of icons, moving the mouse to it and clicking on it is a *lifetime* when you are launching apps constantly, and even when you've learnt the position of those regular apps you use, it's still a semi-concious process.

With LB, running apps is much quicker and becomes a subconcious activity - once you decided to run an app, a few keystrokes and it's running.

Seriously, it's absolutely essential to my workflow. I ope that gives you some ideas. There is much more stuff, but those things are some of my most essential workflow tools.

David Alison said...

@Ben: Some excellent tips in there Ben - thanks for putting them in!

pardo said...


thanks for the additional comments on why QS works for you. it does take getting used to.

David - i found this over on macuser:

acc'd to this, the alcor person is back in the saddle with QS.

pardo said...


Meant launchbar - sorry.

I wonder if anyone has any opinions on which is better - butler or launchbar?

Anonymous said...

Another vote for Butler. I never got QS and Butler seemed easier to use. Agree that it could be easier to set up. v5 might be shareware.

I also use QuicKeys, but updating has been slowing through multiple transfers of ownership, therefore I won't be paying for any more upgrades unless they really improve the program (no updates since Tiger). But I like the two letter shortcut keys, e.g., cntl-e, g might mean email address for george; suppose that could just be eg with Butler.

Anon 22

Martina said...

Quicksilver obsolete seems to be contradicted by this comment a few weeks later.