Essays on Technology and Culture

Quicksilver 1.0.0, or: You Can Go Home Again, but Do You Want To?

Quicksilver made me switch to the Mac. It wasn’t the only thing. I’d grown frustrated with Linux, and saw people I respected jumping to the Mac with gusto, but it was Quicksilver—and Merlin Mann’s breathless exhalation of it, that got me to take the $500 I saved for a laptop, and buy a Mac mini instead. Quicksilver changed how I thought about using my computer, and I’d been using a computer since the days of MS-DOS 5.0 and Windows 3.1. It was a veritable Swiss Army Knife of functionality, and I could make my computer practically dance with a a Command-Space and a few keystrokes.

But, Alcor, the brilliant mind who gave us Quicksilver, had to put it aside, especially when he was snapped up into the bosom of Google. He at least thought to open source it, and, in time, developers came to breathe new life into the app.

Just, not fast enough for some of us.

A couple of years ago, Merlin Mann saw the writing on the wall, and switched to LaunchBar. I saw the same thing, and followed suit. Launchbar was soon joined by Alfred dominating the space that Quicksilver made.

It’s been ten years, and Quicksilver’s new developers have finally put enough into it that they’ve taken it out of beta. I decided to give it a try, wondering if I could, truly, go home again. A few minutes after downloading the app, configuring it, and installing the assortment of plugins that I needed to replicate my Launchbar-based workflow, and installing my long missed BezelHUD plugin, I got down to work.

Everything I loved about Quicksilver was there. So was everything I hated, as well as a few new things. I freely admit that most of those new things were related to plugins, such as the Disk Images Module, and the Things Module, which hadn’t been updated since 2009. These modules were 32-bit, and wouldn’t run on my 64-bit machine and 64-bit Quicksilver install. Disappointing, but understandable. The modules were third-party creations, and the new developers didn’t have access to the source code to recompile. The impetus would be on the unknown developer of Disk Image Module, and on Cultured Code for the Things Module to bring them back to life.

Another disappointment came when trying to use Quicksilver to control iTunes, something I use Launchbar for, a lot. In LaunchBar, I could just hit Command-Space, and start typing a song, an album, an artist, or a playlist, and have it come up. In Quicksilver, I had to type “it” for iTunes, right-arrow into it, type or arrow to the appropriate “Browse” item, and then type the artist, album, song, or whatever I wanted. Attempting to play an album through Quicksilver resulted in a long beachballing, rendering both Quicksilver and iTunes unresponsive for several minutes. [1]

In fact, most of the interactions I had to do with Quicksilver seemed to be more complicated and involved than in Launchbar. This seemed quite odd as, back in the day, Quicksilver made my computer dance. Perhaps in the years between using Quicksilver and Launchbar, I adapted to Launchbar’s own quirks, such as pulling items and using Command key shortcuts to manipulate them, versus Quicksilver’s noun and verb command structures. More likely, I think, is that the Launchbar way of doing things is actually faster. Fundamentally, it’s a religious difference. Launchbar is about learning commands, and muscle memory. Quicksilver is about thinking of sentences, and machine memory. I could sit and use Quicksilver for another year, reteaching it how I think and work, but that’s time I can better spend… working.

Make no mistake, Quicksilver is a beautiful app launcher, and it works great. With a few clicks of various options, and installing a new interface plugin, I felt for a few minutes, like I’d never switched to Launchbar. I’ve never known nostalgia for a mere utility application like the nostalgia I have for Quicksilver. Perhaps running DOSSHELL would be as nostalgic, but in 2013, running DOSSHELL would accomplish nothing but that nostalgia. Somewhere out there is a user for whom Quicksilver 1.0.0 is exactly the app they need to do their work better. It used to be that way for me. It may be again, but for now, I’ll be staying with Launchbar.

  1. The Quicksilver team tells me that this is a problem related to changes in Mac OS 10.8.3. I believe them, but for me, this was a showstopper.  ↩