Mac Gems: Trickster tracks your recently used items

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At a Glance
  • Apparent Software Trickster 2.1.1

When using your Mac, it’s common to open files you previously worked with. This obvious workflow trait is what led Apple, many years ago, to add an Open Recent submenu to application File menus, as well as a Recent Items submenu (containing sections for applications, documents, and servers) to the Apple Menu.

But these submenus aren’t nearly as useful as they could be. An application’s Open Recent menu contains only the last few documents used in that particular app, while the Apple Menu’s submenu offers an unfiltered list of all documents used across all apps. Similarly, the Applications section of the Apple Menu’s Recent Items menu includes all apps, including some that launch at login that you may never actually interact with.

If you find these recent-item menus useful, but you wish they were smarter, you’re the target audience for the $10 Trickster (Mac App Store link), a nifty menu-bar utility that’s more flexible and capable than OS X’s built-in options.

Trickster monitors your Mac, watching for any file, folder, or app you open or that is modified. Click Trickster’s systemwide menu-bar icon, and you get a window listing, by default, all those recent items; any Finder labels you’ve applied to items are reflected in the color of each item’s name in the list. Double-click any item to open it, or drag it out of the Trickster window to work with it just as if you were dragging the item’s icon in the Finder.

Trickster's window tracks recently accessed and modified files.

You can sort the list alphabetically or by date/time (most-recently accessed at the top), and you can choose between two views: Compact, which shows just each item’s name and icon, or Expanded, which displays a larger preview icon for each item along with as much of the item’s file path as will fit given your chosen window width. In either view, you can hover the pointer over an item to see its full file path.

Trickster keeps items in the list for the period of time you specify in Trickster’s preferences. You can also opt to display only items you specifically open, omitting items modified or created by background processes or by other means. Trickster also provides a filter-style search field that makes it easy to quickly find any item in the list.

These views and features alone are enough to make Trickster a dramatic improvement over OS X’s built-in Recent features. Who hasn’t looked at two similarly named items in an Open Recent list and wondered which is really the most-recent—or where each is located? And who hasn't stared at a long list of recent files, wishing you could instead quickly search that list?

Trickster's filter settings let you tweak each filter view.

But what makes Trickster especially useful are filters, which are listed down the left-hand side of the Trickster window. Filters are additional views that display only items that fit specific criteria. They’re sort of a cross between OS X’s Recent menus and the Finder’s Smart Folders—with easier access to both. The utility provides several stock filters, including ones that display just applications, documents, folders, images, videos, music files, files in your Downloads folder, and files in your Dropbox folder, respectively. There’s also a useful Flagged filter: You can manually flag any item in any Trickster view; all flagged files appear in the Flagged list.

Right-click any filter’s icon and choose Edit Filter, and you can tweak that filter to further refine what it displays. For example, I’ve configured the Documents filter to exclude any file inside ~/Application Support so Trickster doesn’t list the myriad application-support files that are regularly created and modified. You can also create new filters to display items that match your specific criteria; Trickster lets you choose from a selection of roughly 50 icons to make your custom filters easier to find in the filter list.

Whether creating a filter or editing an existing one, Trickster provides a nice variety of filter options. For each filter, you can choose to list only particular types of files (documents, images, videos, and so on); files with particular extensions; items in particular folders; or items with particular text in their names. You can also exclude folders—for example, the Dropbox Apps folder, which for many people is full of files used mainly by iOS apps—and limit a filter to show only flagged files that match the filter’s criteria. When creating or editing a filter, you can drag a file into the the filter-criteria window to see if that file would be detected by your current filter rules.

These filters work well, although they do have some limitations. For example, you can set matching extensions and file types, but you can’t exclude particular file types from a given filter. You can, however, use the master File Tracking Settings—which affect Trickster’s tracking as a whole—to choose which folders and volumes the utility watches, as well as to whitelist particular item names, and to exclude particular extensions, paths, and names. This is also where you add non-startup volumes—by default, Trickster is configured to watch only your startup drive.

You get advanced actions in the utility's contextual menus.

As I mentioned above, you can double-click any item in a list to open that item. But Trickster offers a slew of other actions, too. Select an item and press Spacebar to view a Quick Look preview of the item. Right-click any item, or click the Action (gear-icon) button to the right of the item’s name, and the resulting menu lets you copy the item’s path to the clipboard; open it with a different app; share it via email, Messages, or AirDrop (OS X 10.8 only); move the original to the Trash; remove the item from the current list; add it to Evernote (if installed); process it with OS X services; and more. You can also use this menu to quickly exclude the item—or all items like it, or any of its enclosing folders—from the current filter view. One option I wasn’t able to get to work was the Show In Finder command (or its Command+Return shortcut).

If you’re a keyboard jockey like me, you can configure a keyboard shortcut for toggling the Trickster window, and you can navigate that window using the keyboard. For example, you use the left and right arrows to move the focus between the filter and file lists; the up and down arrows to move between filters or between items in the selected filter’s item list; Spacebar to toggle Quick Look; and Return to open the selected item. You can even press Command+C to copy the selected item(s) to the clipboard for pasting elsewhere. Nearly any action you can perform in Trickster has a keyboard shortcut.

Another useful feature is the Favorites sidebar on the right. Rather than showing recently accessed and modified files, this sidebar hosts any files, folders, or volumes you frequently access—regardless of when the last time such access occurred. Double-click a favorite to open it; drag a favorite to use it like a file in the Finder; or drag an item into the favorites area to add it. Oddly, you can’t drag an item into the Favorites sidebar to add it to the sidebar; you must find the item in Trickster and then use the Add To Favorites command for that item.

Finally, Trickster includes Automator and AppleScript support, as well as a nifty OS X service that lets you quickly add any Finder item to the top of Trickster’s list; you can also drag items from the Finder into the Trickster window, or onto its menu-bar icon, to manually add those items to the top of the list—a useful feature if you want to, say, remember to open a particular file later.

Trickster doesn’t provide an application-specific list of recent documents—you’ll need to still use each app’s own Open Recent submenu (in the File menu) for that. But it’s a marked improvement over OS X’s built-in recent-item features, and I’ve found it to be a handy tool for tracking and working with documents, folders, and other data.

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At a Glance
  • Apparent Software Trickster 2.1.1

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