Acting Without Doing, or How I Use Quicksilver

About fifteen hours or so ago I posted a response to an acquaintance on a micro blogging platform I use in regards to Quicksilver, a free program for Mac OS X. This acquaintance (well, it was Adii) was looking to start using it, and I offered up some reading material. He and a couple of others seemed interested in how to best use it, so I thought I would take a few minutes and explain why this is the first program I’ll be installing on all of my Macs from now on.

Where I told Adii that I would send over some information on Quicksilver.

Where I told Adii that I would send over some information on Quicksilver.

First things first. Quicksilver is an application with a very high barrier to entry and a potential for incredibly high return on investment. It is the former because of its lack of a UI (in the traditional sense of the idea) and the other only to the degree which you believe in and use keyboard shortcuts. If you’re one of the growing number of computer users that believes that the keyboard is the fastest way to accomplish things, versus a mouse, then jump on board. You are going to love this stuff.

Okay. Download and install Quicksilver, if you haven’t already.

Isn't everything always in beta, nowadays?

Everything is in beta, nowadays

The first thing anyone will no doubt do is, and the first thing I did with Quicksilver, is to use it as an application launcher. This is the easiest way to begin to get the feel for what Quicksilver does, so do it. Instead of dragging your mouse down to your dock and clicking all over the place, use Quicksilver to open up any apps you need. It may take some concentration at first, but before long you’ll be speeding along at it.

A word on launching Quicksilver. I’m not quite sure what the default hotkey for Quicksilver is, since it’s the first thing I changed when I set up Quicksilver for myself. It can be changed under the Preference pane in Quicksilver; I would suggest Command + Space. I find that my hands usually fall over these two keys, and two quick thumb strokes take me to the Quicksilver interface (if you must call it that).

While you’re at it, you might as well set Quicksilver to launch on startup. That is, if you want to use it the way I’m going to suggest you begin using it. 

Alright, now hit Command + Space (or whatever hotkey you put into place) and start typing the program you would like to use. I’ll use NetNewsWire for my example. I want to launch NetNewsWire, so I hit Command + Space and type in “NetNewsWire”. Of course I don’t need to type in the entirety of the program name, since it pulls up what I want before I finish typing. But it gets better. I don’t even need to type in all of the letters.

So, for NetNewsWire I’ll just type in “NNW”. Guess what comes up?

Obviously Quicksilver won’t pull up exactly what you want for every possible situation in which you type in some letters, but the nice part is that it learns (and re-learns, if necessary) what you want, given certain letters.

I would encourage you to try launching your daily set of applications using Quicksilver this way. For the first few days, this may be the only thing that you can remember to use it for. That’s alright, the rest will come in time.

So Quicksilver launches applications. Cool, that saves some clicking, and it may even remove some apps from your dock. A big reason for keeping apps in the dock is often for quick app access, right? Now you have every app at an even closer reach. But what else can Quicksilver do?

Quicksilver can also dive down into certain applications and offer up some very useful functionality that wouldn’t be available without opening up the app ourselves. For this example I’ll use iTunes. Command + Space + “i” does it for me, since Quicksilver has learned what I normally opt for when typing only that into its search. Good for me.

Now, instead of hitting enter to open iTunes, I’m going to arrow to the right (notice the arrow to the right of iTunes in the available list) and see what’s there for me. It gives me a list of playlists, music browsing options, and view options that I wouldn’t otherwise have without bringing up iTunes. Remember that the search functionality still works when we dive in, so I can arrow over and begin typing “Party Shuffle” to jump right down to that playlist. 

You get the idea.

By now I hope you’re beginning to salivate. What else can it do, you may be asking. Well, it really depends on what you want to do with it. Take a look at the Plug-ins list in Quicksilver and pick up any that you think you could make use of. Obviously pay close attention to any applications you use regularly.

There are a couple of other techniques that I’m only going to briefly mention, before I offer you my horde of Quicksilver resources. The first is one that I use so often, and that’s the period. Trigger Quicksilver, hit period, and you’ve given text entry. Now you’re typing plain text and not searching. Type in something that ends in “.com” and hit enter, you’ve opened a website. Type an email and you’re into writing an email (although I would just use the Address Book and dial down into the contact I want, or search for them directly to do that). Not only does that save time (less click click and more happening, less doing and more acting) but it’s actually fun to do.

The second mentionable is very brief, because even I haven’t reached fully to the depths of this thing yet. It’s the comma. Using the comma in Quicksilver will allow you to set up a list of items and perform actions on them (emailing a set of items somewhere, uploading them to an FTP, copying them, etc.). While I haven’t discovered all of the useful places to squeeze this into my workflow yet, I’m always looking/watching/waiting.

With the comma trick mentioned above I’ll switch gears into the resource part of this post. If you’ve been getting a little excited so far, then these links should give you a bit more to play with.

Forgive the excess of links over to Mr. Merlin Mann at, but he was very influential in my adoption of Quicksilver. I really appreciated his description of Quicksilver and how to begin to use it to any decent capacity, and eagerly await any more morsels of wisdom he offers on it (and soo many other topics) when/if he does.

On with the links.

Hopefully that’s enough to get you rolling. Let me know in the comments.







Finally, just wanted to point out that the title of this post, Acting Without Doing, comes from the philosophy behind Quicksilver, that Nicholas Jitkoff describes at the link above (toward the end of the video). His description of this methodology, as well as his take on universal access and commands, are very worthy of your ears.


7 thoughts on “Acting Without Doing, or How I Use Quicksilver

  1. Yeah, I hear ya. Try launching websites with “.” and the url, if you’re going to type it in anyway. Similar to launching an app, but closer to using Quicksilver to follow commands also.

  2. Cheers for the great ‘tutorial’ Ryan. I have had Quicksilver installed for sometime but just haven’t got around to actually using it. But thanks to your post, I’ll be taking some time this weekend to check it out.

  3. I always want to make the best use of Quicksilver because everyone who uses it loves it. But I just didn’t dig enough deep I guess, but I will give it another try with your manual here. Thanks.

  4. Very nice post Ryan.
    I’ve been using QS for a few days now and there’s definitely a high barrier to entry, since one needs to basically get rid of old habits or shortcuts that one uses; and then replace them with the QS-way of doing things. But I’m already seeing how becoming a QS-maestro, can greatly benefit productivity!

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