Why Quicksilver for Mac Sucks

Whenever I run across a web site detailing the top applications for Mac, Quicksilver by Blacktree Inc. (or its spiritual predecessor, Objective Development Software’s LaunchBar) always seems to make the list.

These apps are essentially a new way of using your computer. Well, not exactly new, per say. In fact, they use one of the oldest ways of interacting with computers (what’s called the command line), reintroducing it with a dressed up interface.

With a keyboard shortcut like control-spacebar, the user pulls up the Quicksilver window, which looks like a search box, and starts typing, as the app fetches realtime results, similar to Spotlight. You can launch apps and files, add text to a document or do math calculations within the search window. For example, to calculate 2+2, you type “=2+2” in the box.

Mac geeks bill this as the better way to use your computer. But for most people, it’s not.

I spent about four months using only Quicksilver on my iBook. I managed to almost entirely stop using the dock and Dashboard altogether. I wasn’t sure if I was really doing things faster, but every blog said I was undoubtedly a better human being for installing it.

I demonstrated the magic of Quicksilver to my brother. “Check out all the sweet stuff I can do,” I said. “Look, I can attach this file to an e-mail by bringing it up in the search box, hitting tab and typing ’em.'”

His response was a stark contrast to the songs of praise I had been reading from technology writers. “Why don’t you just drag the file onto the Mail icon in the dock?” This action yields the same result: a new message with the file attached.

Why, indeed. It was then that I realized the command line methodology is garbage. There’s a reason 99 percent of consumers use operating systems and software centered on good user interfaces. There’s a reason why Apple Inc. built an entire world on top of the command line. Commands are for computers, not the human brain.

I can’t speak for the geeks, but when I want to move a folder, my brain doesn’t think, “Type folder name, tab key, type ‘move,’ tab key, type folder destination.” It says, “Grab this and move it somewhere else.” And that’s what the mouse is great for. (But believe me, when Apple gets MultiTouch installed on its iMacs, — an even more natural way of interacting with technology — I will be 100 percent behind it.)

Apple has it right, and it’s right in front of you. The default ways of doing things on the Mac are much more intuitive and natural to how the brain thinks. Spotlight for launching apps and files, and the clear visual cues that shine in every piece of software it builds provide for the best experience. That is, as long as you’re a human and not a machine.

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5 comments so far

  1. MonkeySpank on

    > The default ways of doing things on the Mac
    > are much more intuitive and natural to how
    > the brain thinks.
    The most intuitive and natural way of doing things is to rely on your muscle memory. If that’s a few clickety-clacks on Quicksilver then so be it.

    > Spotlight for launching apps and files
    Please tell me you’re kidding! Spotlight is so slow that I can actually launch an application from the Finder before Spotlight has even started drawing its list. And I have to click on the application to launch it – I can’t just bash the Enter key like I can with Quicksilver. No, I say use the Dock for launching apps if you want to use the mouse.

  2. Mark on

    <p>MonkeySpank:</p>
    <p>I think the speed really depends on the computer. My MacBook with 1 GB RAM finds Safari when I type “saf” just as fast as QuickSilver does. And then it’s just a command+return away from launching. Apple is even improving this with Leopard by taking a page from Quicksilver’s book and auto-highlighting the top result instead of “show all.”</p>
    <p>Quicksilver certainly has Spotlight beat for remembering what you type for a particular file, like “ps” for PhotoShop. But then again, Spotlight kicks Quicksilver ass for finding any file, including e-mail messages and iCal events. So if it means giving up the slightly speedier app launching for having one less always-running app on my system, Spotlight does the job well enough for me.</p>
    <p>I really think Leopard’s Spotlight will essentially obsolete Quicksilver for app launching. But if you’re in the minority of computer users that think in terms of string commands, then more power to you.</p>

  3. MonkeySpank on

    > if you’re in the minority of computer users that think
    > in terms of string commands, then more power to you.
    Well, you and I are intuitively “thinking in terms of strings” right now; they’re called words. Chinese and Japanese readers, on the other hand, would find it more intuitive to think in terms of pictoral glyphs. An intuitive and natural grasp of any given abstraction really boils down to how you were taught.

    You seem to be espousing simplicity over expediency. Is that it? If so, you’re comparing apples to oranges; one doesn’t trump the other.

    I don’t think it’s fair to proclaim that a “command line methodology is garbage” (and Quicksilver is hardly a command line interface, now is it?). It hasn’t escaped my attention that a dyed-in-the-wool, command line kinda guy can absolutely fly around the desktop. And once ingrained (i.e. muscle memory) I’d argue it is no less intuitive to use a keyboard to drive a Mac than a mouse. Dragging something onto a drop target to achieve an end, unlike double-clicking, is actually pretty unintuitive until you are shown it in action.

    As it happens I’m NOT a command line kinda guy. I personally use dragging and dropping all the time (I love the way you can start dragging a JPEG from Safari and CMD-TAB to Mail and drop the JPEG into a message). That said, I can use Quicksilver to skip to the next iTunes track faster than my eyes can even locate the iTunes icon in the dock. And I’d be nuts not to use Spotlight to find info in old docs. I would actually install Google Desktop if Spotlight wasn’t available.

    But: there’s no way I’d attempt that JPEG trick using Quicksilver, just like there’s no way I’d attempt a deep file search using the Finder.

    Don’t be so polarized about using your Mac. Turning your nose up at powerful utilities is throwing the baby out with the bath water.

    > I think the speed really depends on the computer.
    > My MacBook with 1 GB RAM finds Safari when I type “saf”
    > just as fast as QuickSilver does.
    Really?? Spotty on my Mac (a dual 2GHz G5 Power Mac with 2GB RAM) takes forever to start, admittedly on the first search. Thereafter it’s pretty quick. But QS is always lightning fast. Is there a way of pre-loading Spotlight or something, so it’s ready to rock when I head for that first search?

  4. Mark on

    <p>I think, just like the slow start of every Mac utility (see: first launch of Dashboard), the first search in Spotlight upon logging in is dog-shit slow. It’s a fair tradeoff the OS developers made to keep the memory free for people who don’t use a particular service. But it would be nice if there was a way to activate in System Preferences “pre-load Spotlight and Dashboard.”</p>
    <p>Thanks a lot for your comments, MonkeySpank. I’ve put together a <a href=”/2007/08/21/sizzling-keys-itunes-good-pair/” rel=”nofollow”>new post</a> addressing some good points you brought up.</p>

  5. Mason Sklut on

    The point in using Quicksilver is that you don’t have to deal with all the clicking and dragging as you would in Finder. Just type and go.


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