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The Slacker's Guide - The Aid You Never Expected: Quicksilver

by Chris Barylick
February 10th, 2006

Sometimes it's the weird things that stick. Someone will come up with a better idea for something, then grow it from there. And as unconventional as it may be, the simple truth will be that it just plain works. It's what should have been done all along.

As much as I like Mac OS X 10.4, there are weaknesses. Spotlight, for all the wonderful things it can do, rolls into the system with all the grace and subtlety of a tank with muffler problems. Large, unwieldy and limited to finding files and meta data within those files, the program installs with a thunk as it spends around an hour first building a catalog of the disk in the background and reindexing at given intervals.

Build a large enough database and something good is bound to come from it. For the most part, this occurs with Spotlight, which finds its files briskly and without error. This also seems to be the limit, where progress stopped and Apple decided it would function as a search tool, a quicker version that would replace the classic Command-F, while Sherlock would serve a different set of search functions altogether.

That would be all she wrote.

Blacktree's Quicksilver search and data manipulation program.

Blacktree's Quicksilver makes no claims about its limits as an application. Small, sleekly written and extensible to an almost incredulous degree, the program functions as a search engine and application launcher. Currently in a beta version, the program, similar to Spotlight, centers on an indexed catalog of the hard disk's file names and contents. Once installed, Quicksilver quickly builds a catalog (in a fraction of the time Spotlight uses to create a full index as a background function) and allows the user to go to work.

Enter a string of text and Quicksilver looks for every way that data can be manipulated. If the user begins to enter an application's name, the program will fill in the rest and suggest possible applications that can then be opened with a single click or press of the Return key. Type a file name or distinctive word within a document and Quicksilver will pull up all files, documents and applications with that word in its contents.

Once a search has been completed, additional options can be brought up through the lower pane of the main window. Hunt down an Address Book contact, click the file icon and options such as the ability to add new contacts, edit the file's current information or copy the item's text to the clipboard appear. Quicksilver essentially offers everything that can be done on your computer with an application or file. Though strange at first and requiring almost a Zen revision to your normal computing habits, this is like finding all the relevant tools suddenly available to manipulate any data that needs to be worked with.

Quicksilver is written as a completely extensible application wherein additional modules can be downloaded for interactivity with other programs. The modules, available from this link, serve as tiny downloads which quickly install into older versions of Quicksilver and work upon the program's relaunch. The program is activated by a quick Control-space bar combination keystroke and runs smoothly in the background once activated.

Blacktree currently offers Quicksilver as donationware, which simply asks that users donate whatever they feel the program is worth. The program operates without nag screens or reminders, and is a 1.9 megabyte download that expands to 6.2 megabytes once installed.

If you do nothing else right this year, download this program and play with it. Unlike anything you've ever seen, this is the consolidated direction Spotlight should be heading in, especially if it wishes to have this kind of sleek performance and additional functionality that practically bends over backwards to point out easy ways to work with files and applications. And even if it is something new to learn when you'd rather be keeping things simple, Quicksilver is something amazing to have in your corner suggesting every logical option it can think of to your work flow.

That wraps it up for this week. As always, if you see anything new, cool or useful in the Mac universe,


Chris Barylick covers games for The Mac Observer, and has written for Inside Mac Games, MacGamer, UPI, the Washington Post, and other publications.

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