This article was first published on 2008-10-24. Due to the age of this article, it is included here for archive purposes only.
Quicksilver is a program that grows along with you as you use it, learning what you want it to do for you. It can do too many things to cover in one article, so I’ll start with an overview and then some of the most cool uses for it.
What is Quicksilver? Why should I use it?
Quicksilver is the first application that you must install on your mac. Quicksilver (QS) completely changes the way you work with your computer. It provides one common interface which allows you to work with many different applications without having to leave the application that you are currently working in.
Whether you want to send an email, listen to a song, edit a text file, run a command in terminal, search webpages, upload images to flickr.com, copy/move or compress files, make a phone call, all you have to do is activate Quicksilver (with any hot key that you have set for it).
To add to this, you don’t have to learn how Quicksilver works, Quicksilver learns how you work. It gives higher rankings for the things that you do often, thus, customizing itself for your needs without you having to tell it to do so.
And if you have started to think about it as an ugly looking complicated application with tons of menus to do these things then you will be astonished to know that Quicksilver shows up only as a completely blank window (a small attractive pane) when it activates…no menus, toolbars, nothing at all.
How does Quicksilver work?
Now, let us see how Quicksilver actually does everything. Quicksilver basically,
- searches for an item
- helps you navigate through the contents of the item so that you can choose the one that you want to use,
- take the action you want to perform with it.
Let us deal with part 1 and part 2 first.
When you activate Quicksilver, you get a blank window asking you to type something to search. You can type the name of the application (or file or folder or friend whom you want to send an email etc etc) that you want to launch. As soon as you begin to type, a results window pops-up. Let us say, you selected iTunes, next you can browse through the contents of iTunes (by pressing the right arrow key) which are "Show Playing track", "Browse Artists", "Browse Genres", name of playlists that you have created.
Now you can enter any of these and they will open in iTunes or you can go further to watch the contents of these items (by pressing the right arrow key again). So you can see the name of all artists and if you keep going further, you will get albums of those artists and then you can choose any song that you want to play. Likewise, you can do it for applications like Safari (e.g. browse through bookmarks or history and open any URL), Mail (e.g. browse through any Mailbox and read any email) and many others. (even Address book contacts–just type the name of your friend, hit the right arrow and make a phone call)
Now let’s take a look at part 3.
Let us say, you have a friend "Chris Cairns" and you frequently send emails to him. (to thank him to introduce QS to you…. just kidding) So you type “Ch…”(as many letters required to search it), then hit "Tab" which opens the action pane with a list of actions to choose from. Now you can perform actions like "Compose Email", "Edit Contact", etc. When you select "Compose Email" a "New message" window of Mail.app (obviously, you have to configure your email account in Mail.app before doing this) pops-up with the "To:" field containing the name "Chris Cairns".
And if you like to do things really really fast–do this:
activate QS, press " . " ,
type some text that you want to be the "subject" of your email,
enter some text that you want to be the body of the email,
hit "Tab" key
bring up the action "Email to (Send)"
hit "Tab" key
bring up the friend that you want to send the email to
press the "enter" key (called "return" key in mac").
That’s it. The email will been sent, no windows, no prompt, nothing at all.
And now a big one:
You can email selected text in any application to a particular friend by pressing only a single keystroke. Unfortunately, that requires too much explanation for an already long article.
Also, you can send attachments, activate QS, search for a file that you want to send and hit "Tab",choose the action "Email item(Send)" and then hit "Tab" again to choose the friend that you want to send it to and press the "enter" key.
More about Quicksilver
The Period ( . ):
Pressing "." actually turns the QS window into text mode. So after you type some text, you can use actions like "Run a text command in Terminal", "Open URL", "Look up in dictionary", create a new file named with the text that you typed, or append/prepend that text to a existing file without even having to open it.
The Comma ( , ):
Pressing "," allows you to work with multiple files at the same time. Let us say, you want to copy/move several files(or folders) from several different folders to another folder.
Search and bring up any one item that you want to copy, press "," , and bring up the next item and hit "," again and keep doing this till you get all the files. Then hit "Tab" key, select action "Copy to" (or "Move to").
Press Tab again and bring up the destination folder where all these files will be copied. Hit "enter". So now you know, how easy, fast and convenient it is to organize your files and folders in mac without even having a file explorer ("Windows explorer", if you don’t understand it).
This comma trick can be used everywhere while using QS. You can delete several files and folders at once, send an email to several different people etc
You can also work with all items of the same folder by pressing Cmd-A instead of ",".
To make all this really fast, you can use Triggers. Triggers, basically mean doing things using shortcut keys. Quicksilver supports executing triggers by typing a Hot key, clicking or dragging the mouse, or making a mouse gesture (see image below). You do not have to activate Quicksilver to use them. Triggers make it easier to control iTunes (e.g. play, pause, set ratings to a song etc without leaving the application that you are currently working in, launch applications (e.g set them to single key shortcut like F1, F2 etc so that you can even switch between them by pressing a single key if they are already open, perform web searches (set triggers for frequently used websites like Google so that you can select any text (or type) and on executing the trigger, the search results will be displayed) or do anything else Quicksilver can do. You can create as many triggers as you want.
Apple scripts can help you perform a series of actions and if you set trigger for apple scripts you can imagine how fast things will go for you. (If you have come from Windows, setting a trigger like Cmd-Option-Z for an apple script "Maximize window" (download the script from macosxhints.com) to see the window of your current application occupy the whole screen, will make you feel at home)
(The above image shows an example of mouse gesture. In the above case, drawing “S” with the mouse will open the application “Smultron”)
Proxy Objects :
Proxy objects allow your triggers to be dynamic and are one of the most powerful features of Quicksilver. For example, you can set up a trigger (say Option-P) for "Current Web Page" and action "Paste" . So, now in any application that you are currently working in, just pressing Option-P will paste the Current Web Page URL. This cuts down the lengthy process of going to the address bar of your browser, selecting the URL and copying it, then back to the application you are working in and then pasting it.
There are many other Proxy objects and you can set many different actions to them:
Finder Selection (Go To Directory in Terminal)
Finder Selction (Copy To)
Current Application (Menu Bar…)
Current Application (Hide Others)
and many more.
All that I have mentioned about Quicksilver is only ten per cent of what it can actually do. In fact, I have even skipped some of the important features entirely (and its still such a long article). I hope that is enough for you to start using Quicksilver. To know everything about Quicksilver please use the wonderful Quicksilver User’s Guide by Howard Melman. You can find it in the Dig Deeper links below. Though the name of the book is very unimaginative, it is a simple, comprehensive, picturesque book where you can find almost everything you would want to know about Quicksilver.
Do you have any questions about Quicksilver? Any tips to share from using it? Let us know in the Comments section below!