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.

  • 2004/03/23 18:54


  • Although Blacktree is free and all, and has more features, LaunchBar actually /works better/ for what it is designed to do, without any bells and whistles. It just works. QS looks cool, seems cool, even sounds cool, but it doesn’t behave like a stable, production-ready piece of software. Which it isn’t, so that’s okay. Anyhow, I’m sticking with LaunchBar for now.

  • oshmady

    I dunno about that…I used LaunchBar for a very long time. It was designed to be a launcher, and I’ve yet to find an instance in which Quicksilver hasn’t been able to perform that task at least as well. It’s only gotten better with each beta release (which seem to come quite often). At the very least, it’s solved one of the most annoying “features” of LaunchBar: the inability to search/launch while scanning. How’s that for a novel idea! I hated having to wait to get going for what seemed like ages after a restart or fresh login….

  • LilBit

    As a computer illiterate, I thank you thank you thank you..this just rocks.

  • Thanks so much for this tutorial! I am absolutely stunned by QS, I can’t believe that this is free software. This article has given me such a head start…

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  • Skandranon

    This is the greatest freeware app I’ve ever seen in my Mac-lovin’ life. Thank you for a brilliant introduction.

  • Dan Dickinson: The Primary Vivid Weblog: QuickSilver – A Better OS X In Just 10 Minutes

    The Primary Vivid Weblog

  • Jim

    I can’t agree about using the Bezel in preference to either Window or Menu (largely because too many icons show up as ugly enlarged bitmaps), but everything else about this tutorial and this application is spot on. I tried and dumped LaunchBar but see a great future for Quicksilver on my machine.
    As others have said: it’s amazing that something this good is available for free!

  • Wow, that’s great! I just dumped LaunchBar a couple weeks ago because I hate waiting for it to scan. I was using TigerLaunch, but the mouse just isn’t as convenient as the keyboard. QS looks like a winner!

  • “Efficiency above all things”

    Quicksilver is a flexible and free OS X tool for quickly accessing information via the keyboard.

  • Dudes, this app is the bomb..

    Dan Dickinson: The Primary Vivid Weblog: QuickSilver – A Better OS X In Just 10 Minutes…

  • Normally, I’m fairly app-shy, as I run a lot of heavy-duty graphics programs that hog a lot of ram. QuickSilver, however, runs like a dream on my machine. It’s up, there, and gone in a flash, doing exactly what I ask with no waiting. It’s like the sexy, silent hand maid I’ve always wanted!
    Thanks for the brilliant tutorial, it really helps in getting familiar with QS’ stunningly simple and smooth interface quickly. You’re a life-saver.

  • QuickSilver

    The rave today on the web, especially those who have weblogs and use Macs is Quicksilver. Quicksilver is an evolving structure for manipulating any form of data. The current modules include a launcher, a clipboard recorder, and a shelf. Heard…

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  • One word: Wow.
    Thanks much, James

  • Thanks for the tutorial–it was great, took less that 10 minute to complete.
    Quicksilver is AWESOME. Yet another reason I’ll be sad leaving my G5 at work to go home to my PC. It is so simple, so beautiful.. yet so easy to use… I’m amazed.

  • Quicksilver positively rocks…

    Ok folks, I got a heads up from hicksdesign a while ago and thoght I would check this out. This has absolutely got to be the most slammin application yet for the Mac. I highly recommend you check out Quicksliver…

  • One quick comment – once you’ve hit the shortcut key you can pop open the shelf by doing apple-option-s; you don’t need to open the clipboard memory first.
    Thanks for introducing me to quicksilver; it’s great.

  • Personal Search Engine

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  • Nice tutorial! I’ve been using QS for a month or so now and you taught me a couple tricks ;-) Rock on!

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  • Indispensable! It’s like a quantum jump in usability. Thanks for the tips, I especially like the Browse iTunes one! :)

  • Quicksilver

    I’ve read all about it, and now I have it installed on my computer. What am I talking about? Quicksilver. Quicksilver is “an evolving structure for manipulating any form of data. The current …

  • darkaddress

    I can’t get the Browse Music function to appear — my iTunes folder is an alias inside my music folder to another disk, which I suspect is why. Shame, because I’d have been ready to replace launchbar. As it is, I’m sticking with it.

  • Jeff Harrell

    I was skeptical of “browse music” at first. I have over 10,000 songs in my iTunes library. The first time I invoked “browse music,” QuickSilver ground to a halt for about ten seconds. So much for that, I thought.
    Then I tried it a second time. Poof. Instant. Command-space, type “brow”, hit right-arrow, select album, type “moo”, right arrow, hit enter. Now I’m listening to Air’s “Moon Safari” about three seconds after I got the urge.
    I’m hooked. I don’t care if it is free; where do I send my money?

  • Erik

    This is an amazingly simple yet empowering application. No more launchbar. Fast, it is.

  • Nice tutorial! Like so many others, I am giving Quicksilver a run and liking what I see so far (except for occasional slow downs)…
    Nice tagline (Coldplay fan?) :)

  • Liquid metal

    Quicksilver: liquid gold?

  • Well done on the tutorial. You helped me get my head around the basics! Ta!

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  • Pat

    Hmmm… the wizard doesn’t show up. QS only launches and disappears…
    What do I do?

  • as James Brown would say…

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    A piece of Mac freeware worth touting: Quicksilver.

  • wicked tutorial! i breeded through it, and panther is MINE! it has been PWNED heheh
    anywhoo. Apple should give the blacktree guy (and the tutorial guy) lots of money and put this in the system dammit.
    you guys rock!
    *waaaay too excited*

  • err i breezed not breeded *blushes*

  • David

    Thanks this realy interesting

  • Quicksilver Screenshots

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  • This looks like a pretty cool idea. Unfortunately most of my bookmarks and contacts are MS-based (in IE and Entourage)… dunno if this kinda data can be imported into quicksilver?

  • Great app. And the icon looks a lot like the Marathon logo (http://www.bungie.com/products/trilogy/trilogy.htm). Extra kudos!

  • Quicksilver – the Mac kind

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  • the only problem with this style of launcher is that sometimes there are apps you won’t run if you don’t have the visual reminder. I have a many-tabbed dragthing dock, and paging through it once in a while reminds that I really need to run, say, quicken again… since I tend to avoid balancing my checkbook. There are about seven other apps like that for me. If I dump it all in favor of launchbar, I’d only ever run the apps I felt an urge to run.
    It’s kind of like having stuff on your desktop. Sometimes you just need them there.
    It would be killer if you could also specific certain organization to it. Like a command key that would pull up the browsable menu of the apps you wanted to make extra accessible; user-defined. then I could throw away my dock for good because I’d also have the visual reminder aspect.

  • Thanks for the tutorial. This app. is something I can’t live without — God it speeds up certain tasks. I couldn’t ever get used to launchbar but this one is a keeper.

  • Steve

    Many thanks for a great tutorial to a fantastic product. One day Quicksilver will be ripped off, by Apple and integrated into the Finder.

  • I kept hearing about this thing but refused to try it without a screenshot or more documentation. I’ve tried it now… Pretty sweet… Thanks!

  • Ben

    How long before Apple incorporates this into a future OS X release? Ideas this good don’t tend to stay uncopied for long. Bravo Blacktree, this is amazing stuff. Bravo Dan, this is spot on.

  • The directory browsing is cool, but I usually start by pressing ~ for my home directory, rather than / for the hard drive root. If you organize things The Apple Way, I think it’s more useful.

  • bob

    thanks for this tutorial – nice work.

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  • As has been said, I can’t believe such a sophisticated piece of software is free. QS takes my hotkey-fetish/OS-laziness to new heights. The browsing to albums in iTunes is especially handy. Thanks Dan for the awesome tutorial, yet another aspect to love about my iBook!

  • quicksilver!

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  • No matter how hard I tried,
    I could find no reason for people to create software and then give it out for free.
    It costs hell of time to develop something, why not sell it?
    There must be some reason.

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  • links for 2004-09-28

    Dan Dickinson: The Primary Vivid Weblog: QuickSilver – A Better OS X In Just 10 Minutes (categories: quicksilver readlater tips)…

  • The Catalog is under the main preferences now, as is the triggers; all of which are reached by Command-Comma. The Cmd-; shortcut is no longer effective.

  • Change the Way You Use OSX With Quicksilver

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  • links for 2004-11-12

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  • Wow, this is absolutely fantastic, both the software and your tutorial!
    I’ve downloaded QuickSilver a while ago but hadn’t really given it a try being discouraged somewhat by the lack of documentation (or I just couldn’t find it easily.)
    What a powerful piece of software this is… amazing.
    Thanks for writing this out, now I’m ready to “owning” my OS X.

  • Nice intro to QuickSilver

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  • andesco

    It is because of this blog that I began using QuickSIlver back in March-2004. Thank you!

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  • Rob

    Holy crap. You have totally made my OS X life. I used LaunchBar religiously after a certain level of data critical mass was reached in my computing life. THis rocks the damn house. Now, why can’t I invoke when i’m away from my computer. damn.

  • QuickSilver IS a fantastic tool. I just uncovered an amazing feature and had to share my enthusiasm. I often use the followiing keystrokes:
    To open a file from a specific directory,
    CMD + Space, {first letters of directory name},/, {First letters of filename}
    To open a specific application,
    CMD + Space, {first letters of application name.
    Ok. nothing new I hope. But this morning, I did the following key commands without thinking:
    CMD + Space, {first letters of application name}, /, {first letters of file name created with that application}
    AND IT JUST WORKED! Woo Hoo! That is the definition of intuitive software design.

  • sorrento


  • Fausto Galli

    What a great program!

  • Adam Covington

    Thanks for the help. This was a great tutorial and I know my way around QuickSilver because of it. They should bundle this with the app! ;-)

  • xwilly

    Thank you, for this great tutorial.

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  • abramelin

    Apologies if this is too off-topic but as the forum is down….QS just hangs for me whenever I try to scross down the second tab from the ‘open’ option, to do something else, like ‘move’ or ‘trash’. It hangs for so long I end up using force quit. This is a real shame as it limits what I can do with QS. It happens whether beta or stable features are enabled and I have stripped back to only the default plugins being enabled, but it still does it. Any ideas? I don’t want to give up on QS yet!

  • JFA washwords

    Thanks so much for this. I may just be ready for the advanced course.

  • Dan – thanks for a great tutorial. I’ve been using QS for at least a year, but mainly just to launch apps and to look up phone numbers. I’ve seen the HUGE tomes that have been written by folks but I get intimidate right away! You walked me through just a few simple steps that opened my eyes to the possibilities and why I should explore further. Thanks!

  • I just bought a new macbook pro, having been without for the last 4 months. It’s so refreshing to get back away from PC-land and the first app I have installed on the new machine is Quicksilver. It really is the kill app for osx. Thanks for this primer – it reminded me of some of the key elements.

  • Ckruis

    tried to download and open QS for the second time but only what I see is the fading QS log and than….nothing…what went wrong??

  • Skra

    Ckruis: you need to press ctrl-space when it’s running.

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