Mastering Quicksilver: Contacts and Email

Quicksilver, one of the oldest “launchers” for Mac OS X, has reached one of its biggest milestones — the 1.0 release — a few months ago. We’ve already reviewed v1.1, and now we’re rolling out a series of how-to articles to get the most of this powerful app.

Quicksilver’s flexibility may be daunting at first. You’ve got to get your hands dirty to really see what it’s capable of. But fear not, we’ve got you covered! Last week we taught you some basic concepts. For a few weeks, we’ll have a weekly in-depth coverage of some of the most commonly-used plugins. Read on to get the most of managing your contacts and sending emails.

Installing Plugins

First things first, let’s see how to install a plugin.

When you launch Quicksilver for the very first time, the setup assistant invites you to add some recommended plugins. You can install as many plugins as you want. Just make sure that you at least check the Apple Mail and Contacts plugins so you can practice what’s described hereafter.

Screenshot showing the Recommended plugins part of the Setup Assistant.

The setup assistant simplifies the installation process of some must-have plugins.

Later on, should you decide to add some more plugins, installing them is as easy as ticking a box in the Plugins tab of Quicksilver Preferences. Provided you included Internal Commands in Quicksilver Catalog, accessing this tab is done by issuing the Show Plugin Preferences > Run command. Else, you could access Preferences with Command-comma, just like with any native app on OS X. Before deciding to install a plugin or not, you can get more information about it by clicking the round i button at the bottom right of the window, which reveals the info drawer.

Screenshot showing the Plugins preferences tab.

There is a lot of plugins and installing them is easy: just check their box. Notice the progress bar at the bottom right of the window during the process.


Start by typing the name of a contact. The default action should be Show Contact, so when you hit Enter, it will show up in the OS X Contacts app. Remember, you can change the default action for a given category by dragging it to the top of the list in Preferences > Preferences > Actions. Access the Preferences with Command-comma, or the Quicksilver way: Show Preferences > Run.

Screenshot showing how to open a contact Card with Quicksilver

Opening a contact card in OS X built-in app is easy

There are 3 possible actions for a contact: in addition to Show Contact you can Edit Contact, which opens up the contact card ready to be edited, or Add Note…. With the latter action, a third, rightmost pane shows up and lets you type some text. Showing up this special kind of pane is called entering the Text Mode of Quicksilver. If you need to insert line breaks, press Control-Enter. Once you’ve hit Enter, your text will be added to the note field of the contact’s card.

Provided you’ve installed the FaceTime plugin, you can also FaceTime a contact.

OK, using Quicksilver to open up a contact with the OS X built-in Contacts app is fine. But what makes Quicksilver really interesting is that you can interact with this contact and its data without leaving Quicksilver. Type a contact’s name again and press Right arrow or / (or the space bar, if you’ve defined its behavior to Show Item’s Contents): there, all contact details are displayed line by line in the Results list (i.e the popup window showing up underneath the left pane).

Screenshot showing some contact details

… but browsing contact details right within Quicksilver is more convenient!

Use the Up arrow and Down arrow keys to select one of the details. With some data selected, you can for instance run the following commands:

  • Copy to Clipboard — pretty obvious
  • Large Type will display the text on screen within a giant popup; useful when dialing phone numbers or writing a postal address on an enveloppe (hey, it still happens these days!)
Screenshot showing the Large Text feature in action

Even somebody as short-sighted as I am can read phone numbers easily with Large Type. (Yes, the screenshot includes my entire screen.)


Select the Mail app in the first pane of Quicksilver window. You can browse through its mailboxes (with Right arrow or whatever key you use to show item’s contents). You can also go deeper and show the contents of a mailbox to browse through all of its individual messages. If you select an individual message and hit Enter when the Open action is selected, this email opens up in a new Mail window. Unfortunately, Smart Mailboxes are not accessible from within Quicksilver, which makes the browsing feature not useful enough for me when you know what my workflow is.

Screenshot showing browsing your local mailboxes

You don’t even need Mail to run to browse your local mailboxes.

Where Quicksilver excels is in the many ways you can send emails. Looking at the actions availables for Email Addresses, you’ll see four. Only E-mail item… (Compose) and Compose E-mail are enabled by default.

Screenshot showing the email related actions within Preferences

Some email-related actions are disabled by default.

To compose an email to Michael, for instance, just search for Michael in the first pane then press Tab and select the Compose E-mail action before hitting Enter. If the recipient has several email addresses, the first one in the list (as seen on the related card in Contacts app) will be used. If you want to send it to another address, after selecting the contact, browse through her/his details to find the address you need before using the Compose E-mail action.

While you’re in the left pane, you could also enter Text Mode to type an email address yourself. Because I have a couple of TextExpander snippets for email addresses I frequently send messages to, this is the way I do it most of the time.

Sending attached files with Quicksilver is handy and fast. As I’ve explained in my review, you can do it however you like it:

  • either first select the recipient, then E-mail Item… (Compose) and finally select the file,
  • or the other way round, selecting first the file and last the recipient; the only minor difference lies in the name of the action that is E-mail To… (Compose) in this case (but since I use the emc abbreviation for both actions, I hardly notice it)
Screenshot showing how to send a PDF by email

My brain works this way but if yours does differently, that’s not a problem for Quicksilver.

Customize how emails with attached files will look like by having a trip to Preferences > Preferences > E-mail Options. You can also choose your default From: address in here.

Screenshot showing the E-mail Options

Quicksilver gives you a nice level of flexibility when dealing with attached files and sender’s address.

Remember two email-related actions are disabled by default? If you choose to enable them, you’ll get the opportunity to skip the compose window of Mail entirely:

  • The E-mail Item… (Send) action (the one with the paperplane icon) launches Mail in the background and uses it to send your message,
  • whereas the E-mail Item… (Send Directly) action (with its Quicksilver icon) completely bypasses Mail.

In either case, you should hear the well-known plane sound while the email is sent. With both of these actions, however, you lose a bit of flexibility as compared to the Compose actions: you have no other choice than selecting first the recipient and last the file.


If you’d rather use the web interface of Gmail instead of the built-in, you just need to install the Gmail plugin (that auto-installs the E-mail Support plugin along the way) and configure some little things.

First, go to Preferences > Preferences > Gmail and enter your credentials. If you use 2-step verification for your Google account (and you should) you’ll need to use an application specific password here.

Screenshot showing the options for Gmail Plugin

Just give Quicksilver your credentials (they will be safely stored in OS X Keychain) and you’re good to go.

Then, you need to specify which program Quicksilver must use for sending emails (Gmail or the built-in Mail). Go to Preferences > Preferences > Handlers and choose Gmail Plugin next to Email.

Screenshot showing the handlers configuration.

Gmail may be used for outgoing emails if you tell Quicksilver to do so.

Once all of this is done, running one of the Compose command will directly open the New Message window of Gmail in a new tab of your default web browser.

Keep in mind you lose some integration benefits if you use Gmail instead of the built-in Mail. You won’t browse your Gmail inboxes directly through Quicksilver, and the E-mail Item… (Send) won’t bypass the compose window of Gmail.

Using Mail and Contacts Together

Let’s get back to our previous Copy to Clipboard action for a contact detail. Say a friend needs the phone number of another friend of yours, and wants you to send him by email. You could start writing an email, search for that phone number with Quicksilver and run the Copy to Clipboard command, then switch back to the email and paste the phone number with Command-V. That’s the least efficient way to do it, though! A slightly better way would be to write an email, search for the phone number in Quicksilver, and run the Paste command.

Fine, but here’s an ever better way to do this:

  1. In the left pane, search for the phone number then press Tab.
  2. In the middle pane, type the Email Item… (Compose) command and press Tab again.
  3. Finally, in the right pane, search the contact you want to send this phone number to.

When you press Enter, a New Message window from (or Gmail) will open up, with the recipient’s email and the subject line (containing the phone number) already filled up. The body of the email also shows this number but, since the text cursor is in the body field, just press Command-A to select all and type whatever you want instead.

Actually, the best and fastest way to compose an email message containing this required phone number is done with just one Quicksilver command. Here are the details:

  1. In the left pane, search for the phone number but then, press the period key to enter Text Mode; the phone number is converted into text data that you can interact with.
  2. Here, make sure you press any arrow key not to delete the phone number, as everything in the Text Mode is selected by default.
  3. Compose an email directly in the left pane, by using the following convention: subject >> body (remember you can press Control-Enter to insert line breaks).
  4. Press Tab to reach the middle pane, and proceed as described previously: select the E-mail To… (Compose) action then press Tab again and search the contact you want to send this email to, then hit Enter.
  5. A New Message window opens up with everything already filled up, so you just have to hit Command-Shift-D (the default shortcut to send an email in Hear the plane sound? “Boom!”, as would have said Mr. Jobs, your email is sent.
Screenshot showing how to compose an email with Text Mode

Michael needs his son’s phone number. Let’s write him an email with the Text Mode…

Screenshot showing how to send a composed email

… and then select the proper action and contact before pressing Enter…

Screenshot showing the composed email in Mail

… Once you’ve hit Enter in Quicksilver, the email shows up in, ready to be sent.

What Next?

It takes a mouthful to describe all the ways Quicksilver can help you interact with your contacts. Just practice, though, and you’ll see the app is super easy to use and surprisingly adept.

Next week we’ll see how to control almost every aspect of iTunes with Quicksilver. In the meantime, feel free to give us some feedback, share your experience and ask any questions in the comments.