Quicksilver – A Better OS X In Just 10 Minutes

Note: This tutorial is also available in O’Reilly’s OS X Panther Hacks.

Further Reading: I have also published an intermediate tutorial, with 10 steps to leverage more power with Quicksilver. There’s also Gold Trigger, which helps you understand the trigger system.

This isn’t Ronco. I’m not an excitable friend from across the ocean with red hair and a bowtie and a British accent. You’re not watching Amazing Discoveries.

But I swear, if you give me 10 minutes and you follow my simple directions, you can go from merely using Mac OS X to owning it.

This probably sounds like bullshit, I know. I wouldn’t have believed it myself had I not tried this app and felt my jaw drop over and over again for the last year. So standby to win.

Before you start, you will need to have:

  • A Mac running Mac OS X 10.4 or better.
  • Data, in any of the following forms – iTunes library, iPhoto albums, Address Book entries, bookmarks in any browser, whatever.

Got all that? Let’s begin.

Please note this was originally written using Quicksilver Beta 19, and has been updated repeatedly. The information contained within is currently up-to-date through b42 “Corgi”. As development goes rapidly on Quicksilver, things may have changed since I last updated this.

Boldface indicates directions, and they must be followed. Plain text is for explanation, which you should read. Italics are for tangents, and you can skip them if you really care about the 10 minutes thing. Trix are for kids, silly rabbit.

Note that the term “invoke” is a silly way of saying “press the hotkey so Quicksilver comes up”.

1) Go to the Quicksilver webpage and download the current version.

QuickSilver, very under-described on the page, currently contains just a few main components – a shelf and a launcher. While the clipboard recorder and shelf are both useful and will be covered, the real power here is the launcher. And it’s not so much a launcher as a really powerful personal search engine. “It’s not so much a time machine, as it is a dodgeball cannon.”

Note that if you’re under 10.3, b36 is the last version available to you. Tiger users should grab whatever is most current.

QuickSilver is similar to LaunchBar, only with more features, and free, and has a plugin system.

2) The download should be done. If you need to, decompress the archive.

If you’re using Safari, this is typically done automatically.

3) Launch QuickSilver.

Watch as the whizzy QS logo comes up, and fades, and you see the wizard.

4) Walk through the setup wizard. Let it scan your machine. Finish the process when it’s done.

What’s going on here? QuickSilver is scanning standard data hotspots on your machine – your Address Book, Applications folder, Desktop folder, System Preferences, and so on. It’s creating a giant searchable version of your machine. After your initial launch, this will happen automatically.
Now you’re left with the main QS window.

5) Press Command-Comma to bring up the preferences.

I’m going to go through these very quickly with what I’m using for maximum effect during this tutorial. When you’re done with this tutorial, come back and walk through these a little slower and figure out what works best for you.

For Application, check “Start at login” and “Warn before quitting”. Make sure “Show menu icon” is checked so you know it’s running.

If you’re the sort of person who lives dangerously, you can come back here later and change the program feature level to Beta. But let’s do that later.
Skip down to Command, and take note of the hotkey. Change it if you feel the need to.

The default hotkey is Control-Space by, but many people use Command-Space. I personally use Single or Double Option, which only counts full isolated presses of the modifier of your choice. Use what you are comfortable with.

Go to Plugins. Change the selector on the left side of the pane to “Available”.

As of Quicksilver b26, all the extra functionality was broken into plugins, and b40 added this in-app plugin installer. This means you don’t have to bloat up QS with functions you won’t use, but you do need to install plugins for data types you want to access.

Install (by clicking the checkbox next to the plugin names), at the very least, the iTunes plugin (which will require an additional Music Support plugin), the Safari plugin (or whatever browser you use), the Dict plugin, and the Clipboard plugin.

These are the plugins I’ll be covering in the tutorial. If you see one for another app you use frequently, install those too. Or come back later.

Close the preferences window and relaunch Quicksilver.

New plugins need a relaunch to go into effect. Now you’re done setting stuff, and we should be about 4 minutes in at most. Let’s start with the basics.

6) Invoke the hotkey (default is Control-Space, remember) to pull up the QS Interface. Press escape to dismiss it.

This should work in any app, at any time. Remember the two main key strokes – your hotkey and Escape. Now, let’s search for something.

7) Invoke. Type a few letters of the title of a bookmark you visit a lot. Watch as you see an icon for it and its name appear. Hit return.

Boom, your browser is there. Note: If you didn’t see it come up to the top, and something else came up, wait a second, and a menu of search results will come up. Tap down, page down, use your scroll wheel, or just type the proper name to find the one you want.

By now you probably get how to search. Now let’s mess around with the actions.

8) Pick an application you’re running. Hit the hotkey and type the first few letters of its name until it is selected. Press Tab, then hit Down if you’re impatient. See the actions. Pick one.

Look at all those things you can do to a running application. This is the basic functionality of QuickSilver – actions are available for everything that’s been scanned.

Now you should have a basic understanding of the two main functions of Quicksilver – the search, and the action. All plugins will either allow you to search a new data type (bookmarks for a particular browser, address books, etc) or add new actions (the compression plugin, for instance, lets you zip nearly anything).

If you’re satisfied, you can stop reading now and explore on your own. But I probably have at least four more minutes, and there’s some more nuances.
So, address book entries – what can we do with them? There’s a lot of similar data for some entries…

9) Invoke again. Think of someone in your address book with a lot of data entered for them (address, phone, email, whatever). Get them selected. Now press the Right Arrow.

So now we know that some items can have attached data. This is neat. Let’s exploit the hell out of it.

10) Make sure iTunes is running. Invoke, and start to type “Browse” – an item called Browse Albums should come up. If you wait, more Browse options will appear. Press right. Figure out what you can do from here.

Welcome to what is essentially a keyboard-driven interface not too far off from the iPod. Want more?

11) Invoke, and hold forward slash (/) for about one second. You’ll see your HD. Watch the menu pop open. Play.

It’s like Column View, but better. Hitting slash or right arrow will move you forward, left arrow or question mark will move you back. Hitting return opens the item selected, or apply any action you want. (If you don’t want to go to the root of your hard drive, you can hold tilde after you invoke Quicksilver to jump to your home directory.)

Quicksilver can also take text input for some actions, so you don’t need to merely use existing files or objects. Let’s try this with the dict plugin.

12) Invoke, and press period to go to text entry mode. Type a word you’d like to define, hit tab, and then start typing “Define” until the Define action shows. Hit return.

In just a second, a little floating window will show up with the definition, fresh and tasty from over the internet.

Okay, let’s explore the last few features before we run out of time.

13) Invoke, then hit Command-L.

This is the clipboard viewer. Anything you copy to the clipboard goes here. Clicking on a number – or typing it – pastes it into your currently selected window. Useful.

14) Dismiss the shelf, invoke, and then press Command-Semicolon.

This is the Catalog (found under Preferences). If you want to explicitly add something to the index, you can do so from here. If there are things in the index you don’t want to see, you can disable them here. This is also where you can poke around with Plugins you’ve installed to make sure they’re indexing what you want.

And that’s all for now. The possibilities for this are endless and should come to you easily. Now you can stop switching to the finder, hitting a three-key hotkey for the folder, and drilling down a level or two to launch an application – QuickSilver is so fast, you can probably get the app launched before you would be able to pull up a finder window.

There is certainly more to the app than this – there’s the ability to set default search results (right click something), change the scores for items with certain search terms, enable services to give you more actions for nearly everything, and so on. There’s plenty to figure out about Quicksilver that I can only begin to scratch the surface of – so read the docs, explore the forums, play around, and see what you can do.

I am not associated with Blacktree in any way, shape, or form. I’m just an avid Quicksilver user. If you found this tutorial useful, please toss a link my way, or say hey in #quicksilver on Freenode IRC – I’m RemyDWD.