Do More Faster With LaunchBar

The Techie Scheky series offers tips and tactics for being more productive and creative through technology (especially with a Mac).

If you’ve been reading this site for a while now, you know that I struggle with what I refer to as Swiss Army applications; those single applications that try to do everything. They are almost always clunky, over-complicated and tend to get in the way of you getting your best work done. What I prefer are well integrated apps that focus on being amazing at one or two things. Well, allow me to contradict myself by telling you how much I love and depend on the ultimate Mac-based Swiss Army app, LaunchBar (Available from Objective Development for $35). This streamlined, yet powerful app will help you to fly around your computer like never before, quickly launching applications, files, Google searches, websites, even your music and contacts. This app does it all, but what is truly astounding is how much it manages to do, while still feeling like so little.

What On Earth Am I On About Now?

Let me start by explaining a problem that you likely don’t even know you have. You waste a tremendous amount of time moving around your computer. Want to open an application? First you check to see if it is on your desktop or dock. No? Ok, so you go to your finder, find your applications folder, then scroll through to find your app. Double click and you are off and running… When you really think out all the steps, it is cumbersome and it is a time suck. LaunchBar makes launching applications, as well as several other common actions on your computer and easier and faster than ever before. By simply typing one keyboard command your “Launcher” appears, enabling you to rapidly open applications, websites, files, web searches, contacts, calendars, clipboard history… essentially it puts everything on your computer at your fingertips. After about a 5 minute learning curve, you will move around your Mac like never before.

Ok, So What Can This Thing Really Do?

Let me tell about a few of my favorite features:

  • Launching – The most obvious would of course be “launching” your applications. I tend to be clutter prone and LaunchBar has empowered me to really minimize the amount of junk I keep on my desktop and my doc1. Now, when I need an app, I just type command-space to activate LaunchBar and whatever I need is only a few keystrokes away. LaunchBar is also intelligent so as it learns what you use on your computer, it moves these apps to the top of the list, reducing the amount of keystrokes it takes to get into your work.
  • Searching – When you take a step and and think about everything involved, searching the web requires more steps than necessary. LaunchBar makes this easy, simply activate LaunchBar, type Goo and hit space, you are in a search field that will open up directly into your default browser. It saves me a ton of time when working on pieces like this and by taking me directly into my Google search, which keeps me from my natural inclination to start goofing off on the web every time I open Safari…
  • Browsing – Once you activate LaunchBar, all you have to do is hit the period key to find yourself ready to launch your favorite websites in your default browser. You can also access your browser history; simply start typing the word “history”. Once you see your particular browsers history appear, hit spacebar to see and visit any recent sites.
  • Clipboard – This is the killer feature that you don’t even know you want, but once you have it, you need it. LaunchBar allows you to store and access the recent things that you’ve copied. For example, on my quotes blog2, Smarter Than I Am, I will often need to copy both the quote and the name separately. Rather than have to visit the page twice, I simply copy both and then use the history to paste them both into Tumblr. You can even set up a unique keyboard shortcut in LaunchBar’s preferences that will take you directly to your clipboard history without ever having to open LaunchBar, be sure to do this and when you do… feel free to come back and thank me!
  • Send to Email – Another favorite feature is the ability to highlight either a file (or several files) or text from a document or website and quickly use LaunchBar to send them in an email. You have to activate this feature, but it is really easy. Start by highlighting whatever it is you want to send, then while holding down the command key, hit and hold the spacebar. From there, LaunchBar will activate with a little orange arrow in the right hand corner. Let go of both keys and start typing the name of your mail program, right below it you should see a “Send Selection” option. Voila, you have an email complete with your selection3.

There is so much more you can do with Launchbar, so of it is exceptionally geeky, involving things like AppleScripts and other features that are exceptionally easy such as quickly accessing contacts, iTunes music or even typing quick calculations into LaunchBar and having it act as a calculator.

It’s A LOT Easier Than You Think.

Now that sounds like a lot, but just take a look at how simple LaunchBar is…

Launchbar Menu for the Mac from The Techie Scheky Series

Oh and that really difficult sounding clipboard history, here you go…

Launchbar Clipboard History from The Techie Scheky Series

It’s impressive is how much it can do while feeling so small4. No matter how challenging the task, the application never feels intrusive. There are a few apps that offer similar functionality, like Alfred and the recently revived Quicksilver, but for my money, Launchbar is an extremely powerful and nearly invisible choice. Take the time to learn what it can do. It will cut some serious time and clutter out of your day. I always judge an app by its usefulness and I can say with complete certainty that there is nothing that I use more on my Mac.

Geeky Quick Tip

If you want a deeper look into what LaunchBar can do and you are feeling geeky, you may want to check out this Mac Power Users Podcast. Just as they promise, it offers a black belt in using this all powerful application. It’s an hour long, but that should give you a pretty darn goo idea of just how much LaunchBar can do for you if you let it.

  1. This will be another post for another day. []
  2. Shameless plug… []
  3. You can also use this feature to send text to almost any application on your computer, but I’ve found email to be the most common use case. []
  4. Yeah, I said it… smaller is better… []
  • James

    Nice App Michael, but do you not think you could just use spotlight, which is built into the Mac osx and can have a shortcut assigned to it?  I have my spotlight set to CMD + Space Bar and never have to go into my applications folder or look in my dock. You can even search for a word and it will find where it’s occurred in your history or emails or calendar etc.  Lion has the added bonus of sorting your results out by file type if you press show in finder. 

    • http://michaelschechter.me/ MSchechter

      There’s no doubt that Spotlight can do that, but there are so many additional features (quick web searches, dictionary, math and others) that spotlight either can’t do or that LaunchBar does better. Even just highlighting a file or text and being able to act on it using LaunchBar is invaluable.

    • Andy Bates

      I understand that this comment is nearly a year old by now, but the benefits of Launchbar can not be overstated.

      James, there is a world of difference between Launchbar and Spotlight. When I use Spotlight (try it yourself!), it takes a second or two to come up; there is a spinning progress indicator as it searches for matching results; I hear my hard drive spin up, because Spotlight has to actively search it; items come up slowly, and are arranged into pre-set groups; the items move around as new items come in, and the Top Hit changes every few seconds; and icons are even slower to load. I just tried a simple search, and it took about 15 seconds for the menu to stop populating with data.

      In Launchbar, the search window comes up instantly (well, there is a tiny animation, but I think that can be turned off); it doesn’t have to search the drive, because the results are pre-cached; because it has the results, they come up instantly; the results include icons, which do not have to load separately; the results are ordered by how frequently I use them, which changes the more I search for them; and each item has an arrow to the right, which allows me to navigate within it. For example, I can go right on a contact to access their phone number, or email address. I can go right on a folder to browse within that folder. I can go right on a bookmark to see a list of links on that page!

      But let’s say I pull up a file. I can hit return to open that, just like in Spotlight…or I can Cmd-Return to open that file location in a new Finder window. I can tab and type a few letter of an app to open the file within that app. (Some of my favorite sites work better in Safari; for those, I just type “g tab s return.”) I can rename the file, or copy it, or open a Terminal there, or rename it, or assign a new abbreviation…anything you can think of!

      And as Michael pointed out, that’s not even counting the Instant Send feature. Highlight some text, send it to Launchbar, then type a file name to append the text to that file. Or type a Contact’s name, and Launchbar will open a new email to that person, with the highlighted text as the body. Copy the text to a new Notational Velocity note. Search the text within Google, or Amazon, or Wikipedia.

      Again, this is all barely scratching the surface of what Launchbar can do. Seriously. Check it out. It makes Spotlight look like a tortoise.