If I could have only one Mac utility, a solitary piece of software that I could use to improve using my Mac and all its programs as I went about my daily business, it would be Objective Development’s LaunchBar. When I use a Mac that doesn’t have LaunchBar running, I simply feel naked.
We’ve reviewed LaunchBar numerous times in the past, and it’s always been a favorite of ours. Version 3.2 received five mice from Ted Landau five years ago and version 4.0.2 received a perfect score from Dan Frakes again in 2005. And now it’s my term to praise LaunchBar, with the release of LaunchBar 4.3.2 ( ; business license, $39; home license, $20; 5-user family pack, $30).
LaunchBar is one of several Mac utilities, including the popular QuickSilver and Butler, that make you more productive by using the keyboard and a whole lot of software intelligence to control your Mac, reducing the amount of time you have to spend clicking around with your mouse. It’s not just a time saver, but it can be an arm saver too. As someone who’s been pounding away at keyboards since somewhere around 1980, I consider myself lucky to have not had any serious repetitive-strain injuries. But if you’re someone who is trying to limit your mousing, LaunchBar and its fellow utilities can be a boon.
To use LaunchBar, just type a keyboard shortcut (by default it’s Command-Space, but you can change it if you’re prefer that to be the Spotlight shortcut). A small bar appears on your screen — you can set it to fade in or slide out from just about anywhere, though I’ve got it set to slide down from my menu bar. Once the bar appears, you start typing. Type the first few letters of a program, a document on your hard drive, a web site in your browser favorites or history, a name in your address book, almost anything on your Mac, and LaunchBar starts searching for it.
Most of the time, after a few letters LaunchBar will understand what you’re looking for and present it to you. Then you just press return and the program, document, or web site you’re looking for will open. If LaunchBar doesn’t present the item you’re looking for right away, you can keep typing or scroll (using the arrow keys) through its list of results until you find what you’re looking for. Once you’ve selected it, LaunchBar will learn that it’s an item you favor, and will almost certainly make it your top choice the next time you look for it. It’s clever that way.
After a while, you get used to LaunchBar, and that’s when you learn you can’t live without it. I type
mwto visit Macworld.com,
worto launch Microsoft Word,
mwfto visit the Macworld Forums, and
bbto launch BBEdit. When I need to look up a friend’s phone number, I don’t open Address Book — I type the first few letters of their name (or just their initials) and LaunchBar provides their phone number and address. And most impressively, LaunchBar also supports Web search engines, so when I want to look up an actor or movie on the Internet Movie Database, I don’t open Safari, type
www.imdb.com, then click in the search box and type the name. I type
imdbin LaunchBar, press space, and then type the name. LaunchBar converts the query and sends it to my browser for me, and the next thing I see is the result of my search. And LaunchBar includes similar templates for searching Wikipedia, Google, and other sites. The list goes on and on.
If it’s hard to picture what LaunchBar can do, I’ve created a video, above right, in which I demonstrate most of the basic LaunchBar features.
What’s New in LaunchBar 4.3
So why bring up LaunchBar again if we’ve already reviewed it twice? First off, because if you’ve never heard of LaunchBar, it’s new to you. But with version 4.3, Objective Development has also added several new features to LaunchBar that make it even easier to use.
The first of these is Instant Open, which saves you one whole keystroke every time you use LaunchBar. If that doesn’t sound like much, well, it isn’t, although some of those people I know with serious RSI problems are trying to save as much hand and arm movement as possible. With Instant Open, you don’t type some letters and then press return — instead, you just hold down the last letter of your LaunchBar shortcut. For example, instead of typing
mwand pressing return to get Macworld.com in my default Web browser, I just type
mand then hold down the
wfor about half a second. LaunchBar does the rest.
A similar feature is Instant Send, which you initiate by holding down the space bar when you’re activating LaunchBar. One of the more powerful features of LaunchBar, which I’ve only really started using in the past year or so, is the ability to select an item and then perform an action on it, all from within LaunchBar. For example, instead of clicking on a document in the Finder and then dragging it over an application icon in the Dock in order to open it, I can select the document in LaunchBar and then press Tab, then type the program’s name.
With Instant Send, the need to press Tab disappears. Just select an item, press Command-space while holding down the space bar for an extra moment, and then type the name of the program you want to use to open the item you selected.
Version 4.3 adds a bunch of other features, including easy access to LaunchBar’s built-in calculator (I don’t use Apple’s Calculator program or widget anymore, because LaunchBar will do simple math for me — I press command-space, then
23*239, and up pops
23 * 239 = 5497in gigantic type on my screen.
The LaunchBar bar itself is also prettier than it used to be. Although the similiar utility QuickSilver provides some floating-window options that are much more attractive than LaunchBar’s simple bar, I’ve come to appreciate the simplicity and subtlety of the LaunchBar bar.
If you want to save time, or save your arms from extra mousing, you may find LaunchBar to be as indispensible a utility as I do. Objective Development cleverly allows users to download it and try it out for free. If you’re like me, it won’t take very long to convince you that less mousing around is better. And then the next time you run into a Mac without LaunchBar installed, you’ll feel naked too.