At Macworld, we’re huge fans of what we call launcher utilities, such as Alfred, Butler, LaunchBar, and Quicksilver. These are similar to OS Ten’s Spotlight, in that you can press a keyboard shortcut, type a few letters of the name of an app or document to find it, and then press Return to open it. Launchers are great if you prefer using the keyboard to a mouse or trackpad.
But people ask us why they shouldn’t just use Spotlight? I’m going show you a bunch of useful things you can do in LaunchBar, my personal favorite, that you can’t do in Spotlight. I’m going to show you some of the basics in this video, and some more-advanced tasks in my next video.
“Base” shortcuts A few shortcuts appear frequently enough in these tips that I’m going to point them out right at the start.
You activate LaunchBar—which means to bring it forward so it accepts input—using a keyboard shortcut. For me, this shortcut is Command-Spacebar, but it may be different for you.
When an item is selected in LaunchBar, pressing Return opens it—or, in the case of an application, launches it or switches to it.
A number of LaunchBar tasks involve grabbing selected content—for example, text on a webpage, or a file in the Finder. The easiest way is to select the content and then press and hold your activation shortcut—this activates LaunchBar and grabs the selected content. You can instead activate LaunchBar and then press Command-G (for Grab) or use a feature called Instant Send—for me, a quick double-press of the Control key.
Custom shortcuts Perhaps the simplest advantage of LaunchBar over Spotlight is that LaunchBar lets you create your own shortcuts. For example, Spotlight won’t let you use the abbreviation XL to find Microsoft Excel, but LaunchBar will. The quickest way is to assign an abbreviation manually. Just activate LaunchBar and type, for my example, excel, which should immediately display Microsoft Excel in LaunchBar. But instead of pressing Return to launch Excel, click the Excel icon and choose Assign Abbreviation. Then type XL and press Return.
You can manually assign an abbreviation to any item you can select in LaunchBar.
Browse folders In addition to finding and opening folders, you can use the arrow keys to navigate folders within LaunchBar to get to files. For example, if you activate LaunchBar and type ~, LaunchBar will display your Home folder; press the right-arrow key to view the contents of that folder, the up- and down-arrow keys to browse items in that folder, and so on. As usual, pressing Return opens the selected item.
A bonus tip here is that if you hold down the Option key when you enter a folder in LaunchBar, you’ll also see files that are normally invisible.
Open an item in a different app When you find a file in LaunchBar and press Return, the item opens in its default application. But if you instead press Tab, LaunchBar lets you choose a different application to open the selected file. You just type the application name and then press Return. In my example here, I’m opening a text file in BBEdit instead of TextEdit.
Open groups of files Here’s one many veteran LaunchBar users don’t know about: If you navigate to a folder, pressing Control-Return, instead of just Return, opens all the items inside that folder. So if you’re working on a project, you can stick all of its files, or aliases to them, in a folder and then use LaunchBar to open them together.
Move items You can open items using LaunchBar, but you can also use LaunchBar to move files and folders. There are a few ways to do this, but if the item you want to move is already selected in the Finder, just navigate to the destination in LaunchBar and press Command-D (for Drop). A menu appears letting you move or copy the item to the new location, or to create an alias or link there.
Clipboard History An unexpected feature of LaunchBar is that it gives you multiple clipboards without having to use a dedicated clipboard utility. Each time you copy or cut text, that content is added to LaunchBar’s Clipboard History. Whenever you want to paste something other than the most-recent copy or cut, just press the Clipboard History shortcut (I use Shift-Command-V) and choose the content you want to paste. You can even paste individual words within a particular clipboard entry.
Clipboard Append Another nifty clipboard option is that LaunchBar can append copied text to what’s already on the clipboard. Just select some text and press Command-C twice, and instead of creating a new clipboard entry, the selected text is appended to whatever is already on the clipboard, ready for pasting elsewhere.
Open any website If you want to open a website, instead of switching to your browser, activating the URL field and then typing the URL, just activate LaunchBar, type a period (.), the part of the site’s domain just after www, and then Return. For example, to open the CNN site, you’d type .cnn and then Return.
Seach a specific site LaunchBar also makes it easier to search particular websites using built-in search templates. For example, if you want to search Wikipedia for “macworld,” you’d activate LaunchBar, type wiki to bring up the Wikipedia template, press Spacebar to bring up the search field, and then type macworld and press Return. This may seem like a lot of steps, but once you’ve done it a few times, it’s much faster than the old-fashioned way.
LaunchBar includes a good number of search templates, but you can also create your own for other sites.
Search Selected Text Finally, if you’re reading a document, a webpage, or an email message, and you see some text you want to search, just select it and then press and hold your LaunchBar-activation shortcut to grab the selected text. Press Tab to act on the text, then type an abbreviation for the desired search engine (for example, goog for Google). Press Return and you’re taken to the results of the search in your web browser.
This is just a fraction of the things LaunchBar can do. In my next video, I’ll show you some more-advanced tricks. I also encourage you to browse LaunchBar’s Help—chances are, you’ll find a good number of other things that will make you more productive. Until then, thanks for watching.