Add Magical Mouse Gestures to Your Mac with Quicksilver

Remember Quicksilver? OS X’s ultimate but long-dormant launcher has quietly been updated to work on OS 10.6 and above. I thought I’d take the opportunity to dredge up an old but useful trick to boost your productivity.

Below I’ll show you how to setup Abracdabra with Quicksilver and add magical mouse gestures to activate any standard QS action. It’s a relatively simple trick, but gives your mouse a power you’ve never known before!

What Is Quicksilver?

If you’re not familiar with QS, you’ll definitely want to read our Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Quicksilver. It’s both one of the simplest and most complicated apps you’ll come across and you’ll get way more functionality out of it if you do your homework.

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Quicksilver

At its core, QS is an application launcher. Activate the app with a shortcut, begin typing the name of an application and click execute to launch (or just hit return).

The part that sets QS apart from every other launcher on the market is it’s rich plug-in system. This killer feature, which we’ll look at more below, makes QS the single most versatile free tool available for OS X (in my humble opinion of course).

Activating Abracadabra

To start things off, fire up Quicksilver and go to the preferences menu. On the top of the window you should see a strip of buttons, click on “Plug-ins” to see the screen below.

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Click on the Abracadabra Plug-In

Here is where you activate the various plug-ins, each of which extend Quicksilver in a unique way. The one we’re looking for is called “Abracadabra Triggers” and usually hangs out near the top. Just make sure it’s selected and then click back to the “Preferences” tab.

Setting the Shortcut

Click on the Abracadabra item in the list on the far left to bring up the options. Here you can choose how to implement the mouse gestures. What this means is that QS will only begin to recognize your mouse movement if a given condition is met. You set a specific key modifier such as Caps Lock or command, or a specific mouse button as the action that begins the mouse tracking.

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Abracadabra Preferences

You’ll know when QS is analyzing your gestures because your cursor will suddenly start leaving trails. Cutesy little animated stars will follow you wherever you go. I wish you could choose something a little more masculine, but I guess this works just fine. Just don’t let your college buddies see it or they’ll no doubt demand that you work your magic to provide them with unending mouse glitter as well… or just make fun of you.

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Pretty stars will follow your mouse!

Setting up Triggers

Now that we’ve got the glitter situation squared away, click on the “triggers” button along the top and add a command via the menu at the bottom. The little window that pops up will give you the option of creating a hotkey or gesture command, select gesture.

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Go to the Triggers menu and add a command

This will pop open another little window that allows you to setup a Quicksilver action just as if you were implementing the command live. The only difference is that this action will run automatically when you perform the gesture.

To start with something basic, I set it up so that Safari would activate when the proper gesture is detected from the mouse input.

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Record the Quicksilver Action for the Gesture

Once you’ve got your action recorded, double click on the area to the right under “Trigger” near the command symbol. This should slide open a window that you can use to record the specific gesture that you want to use to activate the command.

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Record the Gesture

I recommend keeping your gestures as basic as possible without being something that you accidentally activate all the time. Complicated swirl patterns are not only hard to remember, but hard to replicate the same way twice.

Once you’ve sketched out your gesture you’re ready to go! Close out the preferences, click your designated mouse button or modifier key, draw the gesture that you setup and the action should be implemented.

Going Further

Launching applications with gestures is all well and fine, but it doesn’t scratch the surface of the unique and useful applications for this technology. Let’s do something a little more complicated.

As a web designer, I’m constantly typing in the same snippets of code over and over again. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could just wave my mouse around and have my favorite snippets automatically inserted into my text like some sort of gift from the OS X fairy? Functionality like that might stand alone as a $10 app, but it’s also really easy to implement free using the same steps we went through above. You can also use this type of workflow to create a password manager to help you log into various services.

The Shelf

To accomplish this feat, we’ll need to familiarize ourselves with another of Quicksilver’s dandy hidden features: the shelf plug-in. Like we did before, go to your plug-ins menu and activate the shelf. Now launch the QS window and hit ⌘⌥S (command-option-s) to launch the shelf.

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The Quicksilver Shelf

This is a neat little window that holds text snippets for you to use later. To put some text in the shelf, simply select and drag or copy/paste it in.

Adding Code Snippets

So now all we have to do is go into TextEdit and type out the code snippets we want to reuse.

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Record the Quicksilver Action for the Gesture

For anyone nerdy enough to actually understand this process, it’s important to note that you really don’t need to use the shelf for any snippets that are only on a single line. In these cases, just paste the single line of text into the action as you’re recording it (first hit the period key to activate text mode). Unfortunately, that input doesn’t handle multi-line text very well so the shelf is a better route if you’re working with lengthy snippets.

Recording the Action

Back in the “Triggers” menu, setup a command to paste a shelf item into the current text field. To do this, type “shelf” into the first field and navigate to the snippet you want. Then type “paste” into the second field.

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Setting the command to paste the snippet

Now setup your gesture and repeat the process for every text snippet you want to implement. This should make it really easy for you to insert frequently used pieces of text with the flick of a mouse.

Other Ideas

Other great ideas for commands to setup with gestures include automating iTunes actions such as play, stop and pause, running a custom AppleScript or launching those fancy Quicksilver constellation menus.

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QS Constellation Menu

Conclusion

To sum up, any action that can be done with Quicksilver can also be setup as a trigger, which can then be activated via hotkey or mouse gesture. The mouse gestures are completely customizable but best kept simple for ease of implementation.

Leave a comment below if you have any questions or run into any problems. I found the Snow Leopard QS build to be a bit buggy so just be sure to restart the app if it starts acting strange. Also let me know if you’d like to see a tutorial on any other QS features like setting up and using constellation menus (shown above). I’m more than happy to keep writing about Quicksilver if you’re interested in learning!


  • http://www.mikeebee.com Mikee Bee

    I currently use xGestures (http://alum.hampshire.edu/~bjk02/xGestures/). I literally only use it to bring up Exposé (all windows) by holding down my right mouse button then moving the mouse quickly right then left. Could you do this with QS?

  • http://www.chaosmedia.net Henrik

    Is Quicksilver still developed? After switching to Snow Leopard, I abandoned it in favor of Alfred as I got the impression that it was pretty much on hiatus and there were some issues with the latest version at the time (localization, etc)..

    I’m pretty satisfied with Alfred, but I miss the ability to add some excellent plugins (such as this one).

  • Jenn

    Awexsome! Will need to try out.

    @henrik: It is still being developed. see opening paragraph in article:
    Remember Quicksilver? OS X’s ultimate but long-dormant launcher has quietly been updated to work on OS 10.6 and above. I thought I’d take the opportunity to dredge up an old but useful trick to boost your productivity.

  • zlawell

    I love QS, I actually get giddy when I see recent tuts for it!! Although I barely scratch the surface of its functionality, for me there’s not substitute. Since I upgraded to SL I haven’t been able to “move” files to an EHD, it just copies them, would appreciate some help with that, or any tut to further my usage of QS.

    TIA

    • Hawk

      Indeed, Quicksilver won’t actually move files to external devices – only copy them. That needs to be fixed.

  • Joe

    Launchbar is the best app launcher imho….

  • JEllexson

    I like your background. Link?

    • http://www.coroflot.com/joshuajohnson Joshua Johnson

      I made it myself!

  • Bradford Chang

    If you’re a fan of Quicksilver, you might want to seriously consider Quick Search Box, since Quicksilver has not been updated since November of 2009, and the primary developer of Quicksilver now works on QSB. More info here: http://code.google.com/p/qsb-mac/

    • Hawk

      You are utterly misinformed about Quicksilver’s development status. There have been monthly updates and the latest update was less than two weeks ago, this month.

      Quick Search Box seems hardly a substitute for QuickSilver – although I haven’t tried it.

      • http://quest4sanity.com Chris

        You’re correct. QSB is terrible. I tried it after the original developer went to work on it. The last thing I need is a Google app controlling my workflows… god what a potential gold mine of information.

  • aitron

    There are only a few apps I’ve been using pretty much since day one of my switch to Mac three years ago – One of them is Quicksilver.
    I’ve tried them all – In my opinion Quicksilver is the most powerful tool for what it does. Of course, if you only need of the very basic functions of QS there might be better solutions out there – I can definitely recommend you Alfred (alfredapp.com), although in beta I find it snappier than Google’s Quick Search Box (which besides Butler I prefer the least of the mentioned ones) and LaunchBar.

    Below some links, as I see you’re not fully aware of the ongoing development of Quicksilver – And yes, it’s stable, just make sure you take a look at the readme file and make a backup of your current QS app and data so you can go back in case some very old plugins you depend on don’t work anymore.

    Latest Quicksilver: http://github.com/tiennou/blacktree-alchemy/downloads

    Snow Leopard compatible BezelHUD: http://code.bencochran.com/bezelhud/

    Plugins: http://github.com/tiennou/blacktree-elements/downloads

  • Ed

    I’ve used QS (after switching from LaunchBar) for years and am always amazed at its extensibility. Love the gestures thing and would like to see a tutorial on the constellation menus.

  • CdLbB

    The magic of Quicksilver with Abracadabra really comes out when used on a pen tablet, Wacom or a Modbook. Check out this video tutorial showing Abracadabra on a Modbook:
    http://modbookish.lefora.com/2010/04/19/pen-gestures-on-the-modbook/

    FlyGesture is another very cool gesture application for the Mac:
    http://flyingmeat.com/flygesture/

  • David Ferguson

    I like xGestures too. I’ve tried to get a review done on it several times. I love it. I have global gestures and app specific ones for doing all kinds of things.

  • begin9now

    Well Done! Thank you. I like few others here, have used QS but only in minor roles, mostly because of lack of time to play with it and understand its capabilities. I think if you would take the time and write a fundamental how-to course followed by the advanced course later, it would help me and likely countless others make use of this incredible well thought utility. One of the annoying features of OS X is that when you move your mouse over to another open application, the OS doesn’t care. Is there a way that you know of to make Mac behave like Linux X windows where you could make the apps windows active as you bring your mouse over them?
    Again, thank you for this wonderful intro to our old time favored, QuickSilver.

  • Hawk

    The Abracadabra Triggers and Constellation Menus plugins, as well as numerous other Quicksilver plugins, haven’t been updated since 2006 and are not 64-bit compatible, hence you have to run Quicksilver in 32-bit mode in order to use them (get info on Quicksilver.app and check the 32-bit mode option).

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