Your Mac, Your Way

Launching apps: Beyond the Dock

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Sure, you could use the Dock and the Applications folder to launch applications. But there are plenty of ways to tweak OS X to make that everyday chore easier, from launchers like LaunchBar to customized hot-key shortcuts.

Launch only applications

While some folks use application launchers like Butler and Quicksilver to manage files and apps (as described in the “Managing files” section), I like to use my favorite launcher—Objective Development’s LaunchBar ( )—only to launch apps and AppleScripts and to perform calculations; I like Spotlight just fine for finding files. So I configured LaunchBar to show me only what I want: I pressed Command-Y to open the Configuration dialog box and then deselcted everything except Applications, Preference Panes, and a customized list that contains the Java application I use to play Go (it doesn’t display as a regular application) and a handful of AppleScripts. I can then press Command-Spacebar, type a couple of characters, and launch just the applications I want, without wading through a lot of documents and other stuff I don’t.—Kirk McElhearn

Apps in the Finder toolbar

I put Preview and TextWrangler in the Finder toolbar. That way, I can drag just about any kind of file up there to open it. This is particularly handy when double-clicking a file doesn’t open it in the correct program. Also, it gives me some flexibility: Say that I’ve told the system to open .jpg files with Photoshop when I double-click on them. But what if just want to see what’s in the file, without waiting for Photoshop to open? I can drag the image file up to the toolbar and drop it on the Preview icon to preview it.—Matthew Cunningham

More apps in the Finder toolbar

I use the Finder toolbar to hold icons for utility programs that I use all the time: Fetch, my VPN client, Automator, Activity Monitor, Keychain Access, and others. I put them there because I was opening them a lot when working with files (to FTP them, for example) or when taking care of basic housekeeping chores. Moreover, when I need to perform system maintenance—such as sorting out an erroneous password in Keychain—it’s helpful to turn to the Finder, because I think of the Finder as my system’s main interface; I associate it with tasks that don’t require dedicated applications (Web browsing, productivity, and so on). I could put the shortcuts to these utilities in the Dock, but I prefer to reserve that for applications and documents.—Mark Elliot

Better services

I’ve seldom found a use for OS X’s Services menu, because I can accomplish most of the things it lets me do more easily in other ways. But there’s one exception: DevonTechnologies’ free WordService. You install WordService by dragging a file to yourusername/Library/Services, but that one file adds 34 commands to your Services menu, and they enable you to manipulate text in many useful ways with a single click. My most frequently used of these commands is Format -> Reformat (Command-Shift-7), which removes the line breaks from a selection, turning multiple lines into a paragraph—useful when pasting text from e-mail messages, PDFs, or Web pages. Other commands change the capitalization of selected text, sort lines, and turn quotation marks curly or straight (as you wish), for example.—Joe Kissell

A better clipboard

OS X’s built-in Clipboard is fine, but I prefer PTH Consulting’s $25 PTHPasteboard Pro. Like other OS X Clipboard managers, PTHPasteboard Pro saves a history of everything I copy or cut onto the Clipboard, so I can go back and paste something again without having to find its source. In fact, I can even search my Clipboard history for something I copied days or weeks ago (a serial number, say, or a paragraph from a document I was writing). In addition, PTHPasteboard Pro can alter the text on a clipboard, removing styles, removing certain characters, even performing complex pattern-matching transformations while pasting. If you copy a URL, for example, it can use a service such as to paste a shorter version with just an extra click.—Joe Kissell

PTH Pasteboard Pro
With PTHPasteboard Pro, Joe Kissell can search through weeks of his Clipboard history and transform text while he's pasting.

Type less

You probably know you can use TextExpander ( ) to insert blocks of frequently used text by typing far shorter “snippets”; when I type addy, for example, TextExpander inserts my full mailing address. But I also use TextExpander to run shell commands and AppleScripts whenever I type a few characters of text. For example, I’ve got a shell script that uses PlainClip ( ) to convert the contents of my Clipboard to plain text and then to paste that text into the current document or program. I set up TextExpander to run that script whenever I type ptp (for “plain text paste”).—Dan Frakes

Replicating Launcher

I still miss OS 9’s Launcher. I tried using the Dock, but I really hate the way it combines launching and switching apps. I tried DragThing, but I found it annoying. So instead I created a folder called Launcher, in which I then nested subfolders such as Apps, Internet, and Utilities. Then I put aliases of my applications in those folders. Finally, I put a copy of this Launcher folder in the Dock, right-clicked on it, and set it to List view. Now I get a nested pop-up menu that gives me access to all my programs, and I can use the Dock purely as an application switcher.—Matthew Cunningham

Configure hot keys with HotApp

While OS X has some support for universal keyboard shortcuts, I use HotApp instead. With its preference pane, I can assign keyboard shortcuts to launch applications; open folders, files, or preference panes; paste text; mount disks; trigger AppleScripts; open URLs; trigger system events (such as starting my screen saver or hiding all apps but the Finder); and way more.—Sean Simpson

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