A Beginner’s Guide to Quicksilver

On the surface, Quicksilver is a simple application launcher. Type a quick shortcut to launch the main window followed by the first few letters of an application’s name and you’re off launching apps at will from the keyboard like some sort of OS X wizard. This is all fine and dandy, but the real power of Quicksilver lies in a broad and robust range of features.

However, faced with a formidable learning curve, many users fail to dig deeper to discover how to use Quicksilver beyond simply launching apps. This article will provide a brief overview of how to setup Quicksilver and begin using a number of its most useful features. Later we’ll have another article that delves into some more advanced features, techniques and tricks.

Installation

After downloading Quicksilver, run through the installation wizard. Install any plug-ins that pertain to applications or services you might ever use (don’t fret over which ones to choose, you can change this all later). The wizard will also have you choose a keyboard shortcut to launch the app. Quicksilver’s default shortcut is Ctrl-Space but feel free to choose anything you like (I use Ctrl-tilde).

Setting a Hotkey

Setting a Hotkey

Basic Preferences

Invoke the main window through your chosen keyboard shortcut and hit Cmd-Comma to bring up the preferences pane. Click the “Preferences” button on the top right of the window and you will see the following screen:

Application Preferences

Application Preferences

Click on “Application” in the list at the far left. Make sure “Start at login” is checked. You can also choose whether or not to show the icon in your dock and menu bar. If you’re just getting started with Quicksilver you may want to leave advanced features turned off as the program is a bit more stable this way (I leave them on and haven’t yet experienced any issues).

Next click on “Appearance” in the list on the left. This is where you can set the overall appearance and theme of the Quicksilver interface. To ensure that everything is nice and flashy check the boxes for superfluous effects, icons and previews. Later if you find Quicksilver to be running too slow come back to this menu and experiment with turning off these features.

The “Command Interface” is the theme of the main window. Make sure that is set to “Primer (built-in) for now.

Appearance Preferences

Appearance Preferences

Finally, click on “Command” in the list on the left. This is where you can reset the keyboard shortcut if you don’t like the one that you chose before. Also, notice along the bottom is a slider that says “Reset search after”. Set that slider to 2 seconds or more to give yourself time to get used to entering commands into the interface without it resetting your search at every slight hesitation. Just keep in mind that you can come back and change this later or just hit “delete” to reset the search.

Command Preferences

Command Preferences

Plugins

Quicksilver’s incredible versatility springs from the plug-in system on which it is built. Most plug-ins can be downloaded and installed right from within Quicksilver. Click on the “Plug-ins” button on the top right of the window. Next click the “All Plug-ins” button on the far left side of the window. You should see a long list of available plug-ins. As during installation, scroll through and check any that interest you. As you check a plugin, Quicksilver will automatically download and install it. To find out more about a given plugin, click the little “i” (information) button on the very bottom left of the window.

Plugins

Plugins

Here’s a short list of recommended plug-ins just to start you off with some basic functions:

  1. Apple Address Book Module
  2. Apple Mail Module
  3. Calculator Module
  4. Clipboard Module
  5. Dictionary Module
  6. Firefox Module
  7. Gmail & Google Calendar Modules (if you use these services)
  8. iPhoto Module
  9. iTunes Module
  10. Safari Module
  11. Shelf Module
  12. Unit Conversion Module
  13. Web Search Module

You might also want to install any interface modules that you see (Cube Interface, Window Interface, etc). Then you can go back to Preferences>Appearance and experiment with which interface you like best.

Actions

Every plug-in you install is essentially a group of actions, each of which represents something you can tell Quicksilver to do for you. Click on the “Preferences” button along the top of the window, then click on the “Actions” list item on the far left. You should see two columns,the first being various groups of actions and the second being the list of actions within the selected group. Make sure you have “All Actions” selected in the first column. Now go through the second column and make sure all of the boxes are checked (you can always go back and uncheck any you don’t use).

Actions

Actions

Using Quicksilver: The Main Window

Main Window - Mail

Main Window - Mail

Without closing the preference window containing the list of actions, invoke Quicksilver using your designated shortcut. The main window (using the built-in primer interface) contains two fields: Subject and Action. The “Subject” field should be highlighted by default upon invoking Quicksilver. This is where you type in the name of the object that you want to perform the action upon. The “Action” field is where you call up the action (from the list in the preferences window) that will do something to the subject.

For instance, say you want to launch the application Mail. Type “mail” into the subject field. Notice that as you type, Quicksilver thinks ahead and completes the word for you. It’s even smart enough to learn which objects you call up the most and will place those items first in the search string (applications are automatically brought to the top of the list).

Also notice that Quicksilver has automatically filled in the action field with the “Open” command. This is the default action when an application appears in the subject field. Since “Open” is precisely the action we’re looking for, you need only hit return to launch the application. If you want to perform a different action, type an object’s name in the subject section as before and then hit the tab key to select the action field. Now type in an action from the list in the preferences menu (or hit the down key to see a list of actions that can be performed on a given object). Keep in mind that not every action can be performed on every item.

Some Quick and Fun Examples

Now that you’re familiar with Quicksilver’s basics, try these examples to get the hang of the interface:

Large Type

Invoke Quicksilver and hit the period (“.”) key. This will take you into text entry mode, which allows you to perform operations on a word or string of text that isn’t something you want Quicksilver to being searching your hard drive for. Type “Hello world” into the field. Make sure the action is “Large Type” and hit enter. You should see the message displayed in large letters across the screen.

Define

Main Window - Define

Main Window - Define

Invoke Quicksilver and hit the period (“.”) key to go into text entry mode. Type in a word such as “fortuitous” and hit tab to select the action section. Next type “def”, Quicksilver should automatically fill in “Define with dict.org” as the action. Hit return to see the result.

Calculate

Main Window - Calculate

Main Window - Calculate

Invoke Quicksilver and type “=”. Now type in an expression (such as 98*98). Quicksilver should automatically enter “CalculatorCalculateAction” as the action. Hit return to see the answer.

Convert

Main Window - Convert

Main Window - Convert

Invoke Quicksilver and hit the period (“.”) key to go into text entry mode. Type “1 inch” into the subject section. Hit tab and set the action to “Convert to Units”. Hit tab again followed by period (“.”) to go into text entry mode. Now type “meters” and hit return to see the result.

Conclusion

You are now fully equipped to take advantage of most of Quicksilver’s handiest features. Explore new plug-ins, experiment with different actions, go nuts. You can search the web, compose and send emails, control iTunes, run Applescripts, and do a whole lot of really crazy stuff (much of which we’ll go cover in a later article) all from within Quicksilver’s streamlined interface.

Before long, Quicksilver may well become such an integral part of your OS X experience you’ll be lost at any Mac without it!