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Quicksilver & Tiger: Part I

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“I forget it’s not part of OS X…” I’ve read the same sentiment about Quicksilver many many times, and it’s a testament to how great it really is. But to me, Quicksilver IS OS X. The things that Quicksilver (QS from here on out) enables users to do on OS X are the things that drop Windows users’ jaws. A while back I wrote Quicksilver Changes Everything as an introduction and tutorial of this incredible app. Today I aim to reintroduce QS and address the Spotlight argument. Soon to follow I’ll give a few more walk throughs of cool QS powers.

Quickly, QS is an Application Launcher. Whoop-dee-doo, right? Right! Because beyond the Launcher capabilities, it allows you to handle files, folders, manipulate just about any data on your system, interface with a multitude of OS X apps, and so on. Swiss Army Knife has got nothing on Quicksilver.
Claire – a commenter on Merlin Mann’s 43Folders website said of Quicksilver, “it’s like a command line without a Terminal” Well said Claire. You don’t have to be a Unix guru to harness the power of Quicksilver, it’s just there, and accessible in the way that your own mind works most logically. As you use QS for a week, it becomes an automatic extension of the way you interact with your Apple Computer. It’s that good.

SPOTLIGHT: Friend or Foe?
In a nut – The two applications have similar functionality, but very different purposes. Similarly, both Quicksilver and Spotlight index your hard drive and allow you to launch a file from a few keystrokes. However, each has separate strengths which make it useful for specific tasks.

Spotlight is tied into the OS, and indexes every bit of data the instant it is created, opened, saved, modified, and so on. By far, Spotlight has the best tabs on everything on your Tiger system. For me, I know where my files reside already. The reason to use Spotlight is to save that extra few seconds (and save myself from getting carpal tunnel from pointing and clicking the mouse X number of times) getting to the folder itself. Instead of all that pointing/clicking, a half dozen keystrokes should locate and launch the file in a few seconds (depending on your RAM configuration, your mileage may vary). In this realm, Spotlight is king. It knows all, and takes up relatively few CPU cycles (after its initial indexing) on a regular basis. I like that it finds things instantly upon making a change to something on your filesystem.

Quicksilver can do the same things as Spotlight. The handicap is that QS takes much more time and CPU cycles to re-index on a regular basis. It’s not tied right into the OS, so there’s more work it’s got to do to discover and index new items. But more than finding and launching files, Quicksilver can manipulate said files. Without even OPENING them. There’s a bit of an attention grabber, eh?

Quicksilver can move files on your system, append text to documents, upload files to a website using ftp, locate a file attach it to an email and send the email WITHOUT OPENING MAIL. It does all these things (and a zillion others) with a few keystrokes that take a matter of seconds. Do you use Type del. arrow [tag] arrow select the item you want and hit enter. Your browser launches that webpage you bookmarked, without have to launch first, find the tag, and then sort through the entries. Or assign a Trigger (another QS function, that lets you assign keystrokes to actions) to the bookmarklet to quickly post a new entry to your account (I don’t like having to find that bookmarklet each time I grab a new url for archiving).

As you get more familiar with Quicksilver, you’ll be more apt to play with the multitude of settings (*make sure you’ve got beta and development modes enabled). This is where the ability to tune Quicksilver to search the things you want, in a way you prefer comes into play. It’ll respond quicker, and give you more pleasing results. But it still won’t reach as far as Spotlight. In fact, I’d love to see a script or hack to send a Spotlight search to Quicksilver and let QS take it from there. If I’ve missed something along these lines, LET ME KNOW!

I’m probably biased as I’ve been hooked on Quicksilver for sometime, but the comparison makes things pretty obvious to me: Spotlight searches for files well and Quicksilver handles files well.

I’d planned to put the Quicksilver goodies into this post, but I’ve had it sitting around for too long, so I’m publishing as it stands. So stay tuned for my next piece (in short order) detailing some new and fun Quicksilver tricks that you may not be aware of yet.

10 Responses to “Quicksilver & Tiger: Part I”

  1. Justin – There actually is at least one (maybe a couple) Spotlight plugin for Quicksilver. So you can tie the two together if you so choose.

    The nice thing about Quicksilver’s indexing is you can be very specific in the way you set it up. You can specify some folders with indexing going 3 levels deep, or other folders that are indexed without it going any deeper. Look into the CATALOGS section of the Preferences. There’s lots of stuff in there to tweak.

    Also, you can set how often Quicksilver indexes – I think mine is every 10 minutes. The more regularly it runs, the more cycles it may consume, but then again it’ll satisfy that instant need you refer to.

    I guess it all boils down to your preference – keyboard or mouse? I like my hands on the keyboard as often as possible – it only slows me down having to reach for a mouse. But Plugins seem to be slowly popping up for Spotlight. I’d hope that Leopard (10.5) comes with a more open framework for adding Spotlight Plugins.

  2. I find that Quicksilver’s interface is useful, but I wonder why it isn’t tying into the spotlight index. One major drawback of non-instant indexing is that I can’t install an application and launch it with quicksilver..

    Also, I wonder if some of quicksilver’s other functionality can be grafted onto the spotlight interface via plugins, even for finder. a lot of this translates to document / file actions which would normally live in the right-click context menu.

    leaving all this in place outside of QS would make it mostly a handy interface to spotlight, which i think would be the ideal model these days.

  3. ApplePenguin

    I’ve tried Butler, Quicksilver, and Spotlight.

    Quicksilver really wasn’t as useful for me as Butler is. I use Butler to create key combination for things like iTunes. I also use it as an application launcher, and that’s all it’s set to index.

    to find anything else, I use Spotlight.

    When I tried out quicksilver last, it was quite a while ago, I might try it out again to see if it’s improved a bit…

  4. I use Unix shells (ksh and bash, primarily) all day and Quicksilver as well. It’s true that could do everything in the shell, but not as efficiently overall.

    One great advantage of QS is that it “operates in the current (GUI) context”. In other words, when I’m e.g. working in Mail, I can access QS facilities with both my mind and the UI still in “Mail mode”, whereas moving to a shell context would slow me down.

    Wrt. Spotlight vs. QS, it’s worth mentioning the Quicksilver Spotlight query module, which allows updating the catalog using Spotlight queries instead of (or better, in addition to) the more traditional file system scans. For example, I added a “kind:app” query and removed the various application folders: The net result is a lot snappier in my case (I’m a developer with apps all over the place; previously, QS was cataloguing a lot of unnecessary files because my application directories were too coarsely defined).

  5. sriram srinivasan

    I’m an old Unix hack and a touch typist.

    I prefer QuickSilver (to the shell) for launching apps and looking up entries in an address book and looking up bookmarked URLs. I find it faster to hit cmd-space p-r-e to open Preview than to use the “open” command on the terminal because open doesn’t care for PATH. It is much easier to cmd-space and type the first few chars of a person’s name and have the address book entry pop-up than any other method I know, including using the dashboard. Likewise with URLs.

    Spotlight is much slower for the kind of things that QS is good for, but it’s strength is a detailed indexing of documents, which means I can now keep all downloaded docs in one folder without attempting to impose a structure on it.

    I find I have little use for Dashboard. After I’ve been using the system for a while, the dashboard widgets get swapped out and they take a non-negligible amount of time to swap back in. More memory would fix it.

  6. The problem is that it doesn’t provide all the functionality of the UNIX shell.

    And the UNIX shell really is a revolution waiting for you to discover it. It’s not just a CLI, it’s a whole environment… back before GUIs were practical, it was the UNIX shell that had people cloning it the way people cloned the Xerox Star and the Mac.

    I can visualise a GUI shell that’s a capable as the UNIX shell. I haven’t played with Automator (I’m still on Panther), but it sounds like it might get part way there. Really, though, you should be able to build pipelines graphically, so you can run a program or drag the output to another waiting script and tie it all together ad hoc as you need it.

  7. Good points Peter.

    I think the draw of Quicksilver though, is it provides all that CLI functionality (POWER) to the layman. (and puts it in a pretty wrapper to boot!)

    I’m marginally proficient using the CLI, but not enough to do all these things so effortlessly. Thus, QS rules me – as I suspect it rules many others as well.

    Do most *nix gurus prefer the CLI to Quicksilver? just curious.

  8. “Quicksilver can move files on your system, append text to documents, upload files to a website using ftp, locate a file attach it to an email and send the email WITHOUT OPENING MAIL.”

    I installed Quicksilver and used it for a while, but I found that I wasn’t using it for anything I couldn’t do in the shell. And the shell is infinitely more flexible and configurable… so I just quit using it and finally deleted it.

    I actually found Butler more useful, but finally it wasn’t doing anything I actually needed, except providing a few keyboard macros that I could really live without. So away it went.