Be more productive with LaunchBar, Part 2

Here at Macworld, we love launcher utilities, which let you find and open files, folders, and applications using the keyboard. But they can do much more. In my previous video, I showed you some basic tips for using my favorite launcher, LaunchBar, to be more productive. In this video, I cover some more advanced tasks and tricks.

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Show Notes

There are a number of great launcher utilities for OS X. Although I'm partial to LaunchBar, Alfred, Butler, and Quicksilver each have fans among Macworld staff and contributors, and each can perform similar tasks to the ones I show in the video—albeit each utility in its own way.

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Show transcript

I’m Macworld senior editor Dan Frakes. Launcher utilities, such as Alfred, Butler, LaunchBar, and Quicksilver, are similar to OS X’s Spotlight, in that you can use the keyboard to quickly find and open an app or a document. Launchers are great if you prefer using the keyboard to a mouse or a trackpad. My personal favorite is LaunchBar.

But why not just use Spotlight? In my first LaunchBar video, I showed you how to perform a number of useful, simple tasks. In this video, I’m going to go a little bit beyond the basics.

“Base” shortcuts Before getting to those tasks, here’s a quick refresher on a few shortcuts that are used in many LaunchBar actions.

You activate LaunchBar—which means to bring it forward so it accepts input—using a keyboard shortcut. For me, this shortcut is Command+Spacebar, but it may be different for you.

When an item is selected in LaunchBar, pressing Return opens it—or, in the case of an application, launches it or switches to it.

A number of LaunchBar tasks involve grabbing selected content—for example, text on a webpage, or a file in the Finder. The easiest way is to select the content and then press and hold your activation shortcut—this activates LaunchBar and grabs the selected content. You can instead activate LaunchBar and then press Command+G (for Grab) or you can use a feature called Instant Send, which for me is a quick double-press of the Control key.

Copy or View Contact Info LaunchBar makes it easy to access Address Book data. For example, to quickly copy a contact’s address or phone number, you activate LaunchBar, type ab (or whatever shortcut you use for Address Book), then press Spacebar to bring up the contacts list, and type a few letters of the contact’s name to select it. Then press right arrow to view the contact’s details, use the arrow keys to select the desired information, and press Command+C to copy it.

Another of my favorites is to instead select the contact’s phone number or address and press Spacebar, which displays the information in large type for easier dialing or writing.

Quickly Send an Email Once you get the hang of accessing Address Book data using LaunchBar, sending a quick email message to someone is a simple task. Just find the contact’s email address, press Space, type a short message, and then press Return.

Send file as an attachment Similarly, if you have a file selected in the Finder, and you want to send it as an attachment, the quickest way to do so is to hold Command+Spacebar to grab the file, and when LaunchBar activates, type mail and press Return.

You can even pre-address the resulting Mail message: Just hold Command+Spacebar to grab the file, and when LaunchBar activates, type ab (or whatever shortcut you use for Address Book), Spacebar, a few letters of the contact’s name, then Return.

Control iTunes LaunchBar includes built-in actions for controlling iTunes playback, but it also lets you browse your iTunes library. For example, activate LaunchBar, type your shortcut for iTunes—mine’s it—and then press right arrow. The resulting hierarchical menu shows the details for the current track (if one’s playing), as well as menus for playlists, artists, albums, songs, genres, and composers. Select an item and press Return to start playback.

A neat touch here is that when browsing artists, LaunchBar creates a temporary “Best of” playlist for each artist that has multiple tracks. This playlist includes all tracks rated 4 stars or higher.

And here’s a bonus iTunes tip: Bring up iTunes in LaunchBar and press Spacebar, and you can search the iTunes Store.

Create new iCal events You can also use LaunchBar to create new calendar events without having to open iCal. Just type the calendar name, press Spacebar, then type a description of the event, including the date and time. If you use Fantastical instead of iCal, LaunchBar can even send the event details to Fantastical.

Recent Items OS X’s Recent Items feature, in the Apple Menu, is useful, but if you’re using LaunchBar, pressing Command+B shows you a list of the most recent items—including actions not included in Apple’s list—you’ve accessed using LaunchBar.

You can also show running applications by pressing Command+R. This makes it easy to use LaunchBar actions on applications you’re currently working in.

Get a File Path If you ever need to get the path to a file or folder—for example, to paste into a document, a navigation dialog, or an email message—LaunchBar makes it easy. Just select the file in the Finder, hold Command+Spacebar to grab, and when LaunchBar activates, press Command+C to copy. You can then paste that path anywhere else.

Open Terminal Window to Current Item’s Location LaunchBar also makes it easy to open a Terminal window with the selected item’s location set as the current working directory. Just select the file in the Finder, hold Command+Spacebar to grab the file, and when LaunchBar activates, press Command+T. You can see here that LaunchBar set the current directory to the desktop.

Run Terminal commands copied from the Web Here’s another Terminal trick. If you find a nifty Terminal command while browsing the Web, the quickest way to execute is using LaunchBar. Just copy the command, activate LaunchBar, press Command+Option+T (which is the shortcut for Run Terminal Command), then paste the command and press Return. (This procedure looks a bit messy at first, but it’s really quick and easy once you’ve done it a few times.)

Run AppleScripts In addition to opening applications and files, you can run AppleScripts using LaunchBar. For example, here’s one that takes the URL of a Macworld article in Safari, asks for my twitter handle, then creates a bit.ly-shortened URL with that handle embedded as a tracking reference. I find LaunchBar easier than using Apple’s Scripts menu.

Search Dictionary for a word If you want the dictionary or thesaurus entry for a word, just activate LaunchBar, type dict (or whatever shortcut you use for the Dictionary app), press SpaceBar, and then type the word. Press Return and the Dictionary app is opened to that word’s entry.

Text-input history And here’s a related tip: Whenever you’re searching for text, whether in the Dictionary app or, as I described in Part 1, on a website, pressing Shift+Space automatically inserts the most recent query text, even if it was for a different type of search.

Perform calculations Like Spotlight, LaunchBar can calculate mathematical equations. I have LaunchBar configured so that pressing = enables calculator mode. I then enter my equation (in this case 2pi4^2) and press Return. Whereas Spotlight shows the result as an entry in its menu, LaunchBar displays it in huge numbers across the screen.

Fast User Switching I like OS X’s Fast User Switching feature, but I don’t like wasting menu-bar space on the Fast User Switching menu. Instead, you can type the name of an account in LaunchBar; with the account selected, press Return to switch.

Show your IP address And here’s another quick and easy one: If you’ve ever wondered what your current IP address is, just activate LaunchBar, type showip, and press Return. LaunchBar shows the name of your computer and your IP address in huge characters across the screen.

Browse .plist files This one’s pretty geeky, but it’s interesting. Mac OS X and apps use special files, with names that end in .plist, to store settings. If you navigate to one of these files in LaunchBar and press the right-arrow key, you can actually browse the file’s hierarchically organized settings. Select a setting name and press the right-arrow key to view that setting’s current value.

Timer Finally, LaunchBar also supports third-party actions, and one of my favorites is Timer. You can get this action by installing a simple downloadable AppleScript. Once it’s installed, you set a timer by activating LaunchBar, typing timer, pressing Spacebar, and then typing a short message and the timer duration. When I have a pizza in the oven, I type Pizza! 15m; here, I’m setting a timer for 5 seconds.

This video and Part 1 show just a sample of the things LaunchBar can do. I encourage you to open LaunchBar’s Help system and browse—chances are, you’ll find a good number of other things that will make you more productive.

Until next time, thanks for watching.

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