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Quicksilver Changes Everything

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I’ve noticed this post getting a lot of play lately. Glad to see it’s viewed as useful to so many! Look for a Quicksilver & Tiger piece with new and exciting Quicksilver goodness in the coming days, here on The Apple Blog.

Quicksilver is one of the most innovative applications to be found on OS X. That may be my opinion, but there hasn’t been a person I’ve introduced to it that hasn’t said [in some form], “It’s changed the way I use my computer!” That’s awfully telling I’d say.
To be fair, LaunchBar and Butler are two more popular alternatives to Quicksilver – LaunchBar is $30 for a 5 computer license and Butler is Donation-ware. In contrast, the founding developer of Quicksilver (known as Alcor on his forums – look for an interview with Alcor in the coming weeks) seems to spend more of his time working on QS than getting around to creating a donation section on

Why is it better? Alcor is one of the most responsive developers I’ve come across. Beta updates seem to come – on average – about every couple weeks. He is constantly answering questions and listening to the multitude of fans on his forums. I’ve not seen a similar, consistent practice by a developer…in my memory. So not only is Quicksilver fully featured and powerful as all get-out, but it’s always evolving.

OK, what does it do?!
Short answer: It’s a launcher. It allows you to open files from a keystroke instead of clicking through the Finder for them.
Long answer: What doesn’t it do? QS indexes your hard drive into a Catalog. That Catalog is available at a single keystroke and then allows you access to everything on your computer. Not only can you open applications, but using QS, you can move files around, append text to files, locate a file and attach it to an email…The list goes on and on and on and…

But to really appreciate Quicksilver, you’ve got to dive in. Nothing I could write would explain it nearly well enough (you’re probably saying to yourself, “Yeah, that’s painfully obvious…”). Seeing absolutely is believing. And as it says on the Quicksilver Preview page:

In the end, Quicksilver has one very important effect. , The effort associated with frequent tasks fades into the background and you are able to act without thinking. After an adaptation period, Quicksilver becomes an extension of yourself; the process fades away leaving only the results.

So let’s get started!

  1. You gotta download it first. Get Quicksilver here.
  2. Drag Quicksilver (QS) to your Applications folder and Launch it.
  3. Run through the one-time configuration and make sure to read the explanations – they are good for giving some perspective to what QS is doing. I’d select all the default plugins during this process. You can download tons more later.
  4. CTRL + SpaceBar is the default keystroke to launch QS (in case it didn’t launch after its configuration).
  5. Let’s go through the Preferences first. With QS up, use the keystroke, CMD (or Apple) + COMMA.
  6. To get all the QS goodness, make sure to enable Advanced Features/Relaunch/Choose Beta from the drop-down/Relaunch The rest of the prefs can be left for later, once you’re used to using QS, though I’ll try to touch on some of them at the end of this walk-through.

# Let’s quickly explore the file system and open a folder or file.

  • CTRL + SpaceBar to invoke QS.
  • press and hold / for a second. This brings up the root of your file system. You can now arrow-right and/or down to navigate quickly through your directories.
  • The 2nd pane defaults to “Open”, so when you get to the directory or file you desire, just hit return and it will be opened for you.

(See how fast and simple that was?)

# OK, now let’s use the 2nd pane’s actions. We’ll quickly add text to a file without even opening it.

  • Create an empty plain text document in your Documents folder. Call it qs.txt. Close the text file.
  • CTRL + SpaceBar to invoke QS.
  • Press and hold . for a second. The pane will turn white. You can now type a text message in. Type, “QS is kinda neat.”
  • Press TAB to get to the 2nd pane.
  • In the second pane are actions that you can take on the selection in the first pane. start typing: “app” (minus the “s) for Append text to…
  • TAB again to the 3rd pane. Now you’ll locate the blank qs.txt file you created earlier. QS probably hasn’t re-indexed your file system yet, so just typing qs.txt won’t return the file you want. Type: “Doc” to get to Documents.
  • Right arrow when Documents folder is selected. When you’ve high-lighted qs.txt hit Return.
  • Go to your Documents folder and open qs.txt to see your changes (or better yet, use QS to locate/open it…)

(The 2nd pane’s actions will become very familiar. arrow down through them to see some of the things you can do. Installing plugins will greatly enhance the list of actions you can employ.)

# Get quick access to your iTunes music at the touch of a couple keys.

  • CTRL + SpaceBar to invoke QS.
  • Type: “itu” to bring up iTunes
  • Arrow right to get into the iTunes information
  • Type: “mus” and you should go straight to your Music Library.
  • Arrow right and you’ll get your full listing of iTunes music files. Choose one and notice that the 2nd pane says PLAY. Hit return and you’ll be playing that track.

(Again, lots of other actions to be applied to the iTunes track you located – add to a party shuffle, copy, email, etc. I thought there was a rating plugin, but I can’t find it now.)

# Run a Google search on the fly.

  • CTRL + SpaceBar to invoke QS.
  • Type: “goo” for Google Quicksearch
  • TAB and you get Search For… TAB again and you automatically go to a text input mode in the 3rd pane.
  • type whatever you want to search for on Google. Hit return. Your default browser is launched and the query results displayed for you.

(If you’re like me, you’ve almost always got a browser open, and a search bar in there. This exercise was to show another function of QS, though you may find yourself using this often when not in a browser.)

# Now we’ll work with a selected file and move it to a new location.

  • You’ve got junk on your desktop in the way of tons of files, right? If not, put a file – or 2, 3, 4) there (jpg, txt, whatever) now please.
  • Select that file, or group of files that you want to move by clicking on it (or clicking, dragging over the group).
  • CTRL + SpaceBar to invoke QS.
  • CMD (Apple) + g will take the selected files and load them to the 1st pane for processing.
  • TAB and Type: “mov” for Move To…
  • TAB and Type: “hom” for your Home Folder. Hit return. You just move that file or files to your home folder. no opening Finder and clicking meticulously through to your home directory at all.

(I don’t really use this, but again, shows some of the wide range of powerful things QS is capable of.)

# A couple other useful pieces of Quicksilver are the Shelf and the Clipboard History

The Clipboard Viewer

  • CTRL + SpaceBar to invoke QS.
  • CMD + L to bring up the Clipboard Viewer.
  • Clipboard Viewer just shows the last 10 or so things you’ve copied to the clipboard. You can drag these to any application you want.

The Shelf

  • CTRL + SpaceBar to invoke QS.
  • CMD + OPTION + S to bring up the Shelf.
  • You can drag any file from anyplace to the Shelf for keeping until you want to use them at a later time.

While in the preferences pane, you may notice the Triggers at the bottom. These are customizable routines that you perform in QS that you can assign your own key combination to. So you can cut the fast-use of QS down even more with a 2 or 3 key combination to launch some process that you do often in Quicksilver.

Quicksilver is smart too. It learns the queries that you use most. For instance, invoke QS and type “i”, then arrow down to iPhoto then launch it. After a few times QS will be smart enough to go straight to iPhoto when you type just “i”.

So hopefully you start to see the incredible power and flexibility that Quicksilver has to offer. Soon your dock will shrink, as you begin launching everything from QS. And then when you go to use your friend’s OS X machine (without QS installed), you’re going to drive yourself crazy when you automatically hist CTRL + Spacebar every few minutes to assist you in some common task.

Expand the possibilities further by going to the QS preferences, selecting plugins, and choosing to add more plugins. It’ll launch your browser with the plugin listing page. You can either download them to your system (the down arrow icon) or have QS install them directly without having files cluttering up your desktop (the plus icon). There are dozens of plugins to choose from, and more being developed all the time.

For more information and help, either comment here, and I’ll do my best to appease you, or checkout the Blacktree message boards. There’s tons of great information on the boards, so check them out for sure.

I hope I’ve helped change the way you use your computer. It’s such an awesome program, and I’m constantly picking up new things that I hadn’t known before. Lastly, check back soon for an interview with Alcor, the Quicksilver developer to be posted here on The Apple Blog in the very near future.

Check out “Tiger & Quicksilver” also. More Quicksilver goodness there.

64 Responses to “Quicksilver Changes Everything”

  1. Jim – If you go into the preferences for QS, go to the catalog. Select the desktop (or whichever collection your Desktop may reside in) and click the little reload icon in the bottom right of the window. That should update it appropriately for you.

    Also, check the frequency with which QS is re-scanning your catalogs – it may be spaced too far apart for your tastes.

  2. My quicksilver catalog shows some files on my desktop that have been erased. Is there a way to delete those out of my catalog and off my disk. (the files show up as question marks icons in quicksilver)

  3. I was wondering if anyone here had at the top of their minds where I could change the Command-/ command to something else as I am using a “foreign” keyboard where the / is not one keybutton, but a combination (Shift-7) which does not work in the same manner in Quicksilver

  4. don’t want to be dumb… but how is this any better than spotlight?!? All the main function seem to do the same from spotlight… and its totally intergrated into OSX…

    Am I missing a trick here?!?

  5. Hey onga –

    are you in the beta, development versions? which version are you on? which version of OS X?

    to answer your question, I actually use Spotlight to launch QS in the uncommon event that it quits on me.

    check the forums at too – lots of great help there for QS.

  6. by the way is there a keyboard shortcut for actually opening up the quick silver app ? currently i have it on my dock any other alternatives ?

  7. @Thomas – Thanks for covering that. I was slow on the draw.

    @Lee – Yeah, the bezel USED to be the default UI a while back, but a few releases ago they switched to the Primer UI as default.
    Definitely check through the plugins – there’s a ton of great stuff in there to make QS even more handy. (Hard to believe it can get better, I know. But it does) I’ll be doing an updated post on QS and Tiger soon, and I’ll be sure to highlight the plugins a lot more.

  8. Thomas

    @Lee: You can get the Bezel interface (the black boxes) by going to QS prefs and clicking on Plugins. From the drop down at the top left of this pane, choose Available. A list of available plugins will appear; Bezel should be in this list. Click the checkbox to install. Next, go to the Appearance pane and where it says Interface, choose Bezel. You might have to restart QS before the Bezel interface will show up; use Cmd-Ctrl-Q to restart QS from the preferences window.

  9. Whenever I look at an example of quicksilver, there are always black boxes for the interface. My version has gray boxes that are stacked vertically?

  10. QS is one of my favorite applications. I first started using LaunchBar 3 and registered it within an hour of trying it the first time. When I discovered QS, I switched. A big plus for me is that QS lets you get rid of the dock & menu icon, so there’s no visual intrusion when I’m not using it. I’ve become so used to hitting cmd-ESC and starting to type when I want to launch an application that I rarely go to my application folder. QS plugins add a lot of nice features – I just replaced SizzlingKeys4iTunes with the iTunes module in QS, which gives me the same functionality using trigger keys, and one less application running.

  11. Mike Hiner

    Rob, it is unlikely that QS is taking up 1.4GB of space. The app itself is only 7MB. Indices should total below 10MB, usually below 3MB.

    If you deleted the app and ~/Library/Application Support/Quicksilver then you have removed everything. Check your log size, perhaps that is where the missing space went.

  12. Rob Deegan

    I downloaded and installed QS. It reduced the space available on my HD from 1.86GB to 471MB. I therefore decided to delete it until I have a bigger HD. However my HD space has not been restored even after emptying the trash! Did QS really waste 1.4GB of storage!?

  13. Joe – I believe it’s the web searches module, and if I’m correct, it comes default (not downloadable). Make sure you’ve got it on beta, and Versions: Final Releases.

    other than that, try posting on the QS boards, as many people there are hugely helpful with EVERYthing QS related.

  14. I didn’t get into the plugins, because I was trying to focus on using QS from a new user perspective. I wanted to get the use and power across, and let folks get the hang of things before they go nuts with all the extra options that are available out there.

    thanks for the correction on the period (though it doesn’t hurt anything if you do hold for a second – I think most people will release the . when the text form pops up) – I was thinking about the / command for root.

  15. Quicksilver is an amazing application. I’m surprised you waited until the end to mention plugins – one of the strengths of Quicksilver is the powerful plugin API.

    One mistake in this article is you don’t hold down . for a second to go to string mode – you just press it and it jumps to string mode. Alternately you could use the ‘ key

    And as to a rating plugin, I believe it was actually an AppleScript posted in the forums.