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Mac OS X gives you many ways to open applications. You can click on their icons in the Dock, sidebar, or toolbar; double-click on their icons in the Finder; or use Spotlight to find and launch them. But all of these methods have one thing in common—they’re slow. If you need speed—or more options—you need a launcher.

These add-on programs let you jump to the right application or file with just a few keystrokes, and they pack a wide variety of other time-saving shortcuts. Which launcher you use is a matter of personal preference. All of them let you open an item quickly by pressing a keyboard shortcut, typing the first few letters of the desired item’s name, and then pressing return. You might find their other features indispensable or confusing, depending on how you work.

Here, three writers discuss some of the coolest things you can do with Peter Maurer’s free Butler (   ), Objective Development’s $20 LaunchBar (   ), and Blacktree’s free Quicksilver (   ).

Full-featured Butler

When one application can replace several, and do even more than they could, it’s a winner in my book. Here are some tasks at which Butler excels:

Speed Up Spotlight Searches Don’t you hate how Spotlight starts searching before you’ve even completed your search term? Use Butler to send your completed query to Spotlight. Just add a new Spotlight Search Smart Item to Butler’s configuration and assign a hot key to it. Press that hot key, enter your Spotlight search term, and press return when you’re ready for Spotlight to search. You can even toggle between searching file contents and file names by pressing the up or down arrow before you press return.

Search the Web I search many Web sites—Mac OS X Hints, Google, and Wikipedia, to name but three. Butler’s Web search tool lets you start searches without first loading the parent site in your browser. Add as many Web Search Smart Items to Butler’s configuration as you need, and assign them hot keys. I use shift-option-control as the key combination for my Web searches. If I press those keys along with W, I get a Wikipedia search box, or I can use G for a Google search or H for a Mac OS X Hints search.

Launch Dashboard Widgets In the General section of Butler’s preferences, add two new folders for Butler to search for applications: /Library/Widgets and your user folder /Library/Widgets. Now you can open a Dashboard widget just by pressing control-spacebar and entering a few letters of the widget’s name (see “Fishing for Widgets”).

Control iTunes Using Butler’s iTunes Smart Items, you can start, stop, skip forward or backward, and even rate songs—all without ever activating iTunes. You can do this via the Butler entry in the menu bar, or (my preference) use hot keys that you define. The shortcuts work in any application, so I don’t have to go hunting for iTunes’ window or use iTunes’ Dock icon to access these functions.— Rob Griffiths

Streamlined LaunchBar

I like LaunchBar because it’s fast, it’s easy to use, and it isn’t cluttered with obscure features. Here are some of my favorite ways to use it:

Hop to Documents and Data Sure, launchers let you find and launch applications, but what about specific files and data? After you’ve used LaunchBar to find an application, press the right-arrow key. If you’re in a document-based application, such as TextEdit, you’ll get a list of recent documents.

LaunchBar can access additional options in some applications. For example, if you select iTunes with LaunchBar, pressing the right-arrow key lets you navigate your library—including playlists, albums, artists, and songs—and begin playback (see “iTunes at Your Fingertips”).

Make Quick Copies Need to copy a file on your desktop to a folder nestled deep down in your hard drive? Activate LaunchBar and type the first few letters of the folder’s name; when the folder’s icon appears in LaunchBar, drag the file onto the icon. A menu lets you choose to move or copy the file to that folder, or to create an alias of it there.

Cruise Your Contacts If you keep all your contact information in OS X’s Address Book or Microsoft’s Entourage, typing the first few letters of a person’s name—or just his or her initials—will bring up the appropriate contact in LaunchBar. Once you’re there, press return to open the contact record, press shift-return to open a new e-mail message addressed to that person, or press the right-arrow key repeatedly to move through the contact’s information. If you’re ready to dial, press the return key to view the phone number on screen in large type.

Browse Files and Folders Whenever LaunchBar displays a folder or volume, you can press the right-arrow key to see its contents and then use the arrow keys to navigate through them.

Soup Up Spotlight Searching Activate LaunchBar and press Command-F to perform advanced Spotlight searches—no need for Spotlight’s awkward search syntax. For example, type

ical tomorrow
to tell Spotlight to find tomorrow’s iCal events.

Only the Essentials LaunchBar can do lots of cool things, but if you don’t want to do some of them, it’s easy to keep those features from getting in your way. Use LaunchBar’s configuration window to disable whatever you don’t need.— Dan Frakes

Customizable Quicksilver

I like Quicksilver because it’s more than a launcher. Its features allow you to do many different tasks efficiently, and its nearly 100 plug-ins let you customize the program to fit the way you work. Here are just a few great ways to use Quicksilver:

Get Trigger-Happy If tapping a hot key and typ-ing the first few letters of a program’s name are too much work, Quicksilver gives you an addi-tional option for quick launching. Use Quicksilver’s triggers to access a command—a keystroke, a click, or even a mouse gesture. So, for example, I could teach Quicksilver that when I draw a greater-than symbol with my mouse (>), I want to fire off the iTunes Next Track action.

To create a trigger that opens your favorite Web browser, you could select Quicksilver: Triggers and click on the plus-sign (+) button at the bottom of the window. In the menu that appears, choose HotKey. In the Item field, choose your favorite Web browser. In the Action field, choose Open, and then click on Save. Double-click on the word None in the Trigger column to open a drawer full of options. Click on the Hot Key field and then press the shortcut you’d like to open the browser (I use F1). Close the window. Now press the new hot key, and your browser should open. ( Learn more about triggers.)

Attach Fast Do you send a lot of attachments via e-mail? Don’t bother opening your e-mail program and going through the regular rigmarole. With Quicksilver, you can press the program’s shortcut, type a few letters of the file’s name to select it, press tab, type

to summon the Email To action, press tab, type a few letters to bring up the contact’s name, and then press return to send (see “Quick Send”). Done!

To enable this feature, you must first go to Quicksilver: Preferences and select the Enable Advanced Features option. The program will relaunch. Reopen the Preferences and click on Actions in the left-hand column. Click on Email Addresses in the Type column. Then, in the Actions column, enable Email Item (Send Directly).

If you don’t see any options when you click on Email Addresses, you need to install a plug-in. Choose Quicksilver: Plugins. You’ll see an Entourage 2004 Module and an Apple Mail Module. Select the appropriate one, restart Quicksilver, and then follow the previous instructions.

Plug Into Plug-ins Want to upload your photos from iPhoto to Flickr? Do so directly with the Flickr Upload plug-in. Want to compress files on-the-fly? Try the File Compression Module. Need to upload files over FTP? The Transmit plug-in makes it a breeze. Use the Plugins menu to manage and install plug-ins that interest you.— Dan Dickinson

[ Dan Dickinson is a technology analyst and the author of multiple Quicksilver tutorials on his blog. Senior Editor Dan Frakes is Macworld’s Mac Gems columnist and the senior reviews editor at Senior Editor Rob Griffiths runs ]

Fishing for Widgets: Use Butler to launch any Dashboard widget directly from the keyboard—just press control-spacebar, type a few letters of the widget’s name, and press return. iTunes at Your Fingertips: LaunchBar lets you quickly browse your iTunes library—without opening iTunes.Quick Send: With Quicksilver, you can attach and send a file without taking your hands off the keyboard or opening your e-mail program.
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