Launching with LaunchBar

It really is more than just a launcher

In the past I’ve heard people professing the ‘Default Mac’ approach. The idea is to avoid using tools which enhance or replace behaviours in the operating system. The point being that it allows you to be fully effective no matter what Mac you’re using.

I only use my machine, so rubbish to that. I have no trepidation in customising my Mac to my heart’s content. An enormous part of this is LaunchBar. For a tool that is little more than a thin strip of pixels, if visible at all, it’s implausibly powerful.

Whilst I don’t come close to using all of LaunchBar’s features, those I do are invaluable. I shall write about all of these in due course. For now, I would like to take a slightly different look at launching applications with LaunchBar.

LaunchBar vs the Dock

The majority of the apps I use regularly stay in my Dock. (In case you’re wondering: bottom of the screen, always visible, one notch up from the smallest size.) I don’t see any reason not to keep them there.

Anything used less frequently is opened using LaunchBar. The abbreviations I use are just what feels natural. LaunchBar’s guess for my organic abbreviation is often spot on – mm is for MailMate, for example. When we don’t agree, I either gently reprimand it a couple times or skip the trouble and just assign the abbreviation manually. Now when I type mp, MAMP pops into the bar first, rather than Maps.

Using LaunchBar as a simple launcher like this is perhaps its most simplistic use. Even this can be enhanced with one additional keystroke: space bar. Rather than pressing ‘return’ to open the app cold, pressing space bar often reveals a way to provide a ‘launch argument’ to the application.

Document-based apps

If a document-based application is in the bar, pressing the space bar presents a list of files: recently opened followed by any documents which open in that app by default.

In the case of an app like BBEdit, just my recent documents list is huge. You can key down to select a file, but it quickly becomes inefficient. It’s better to use LaunchBar’s search.

When searching in this mode, the context is limited to only the items in the list. LaunchBar’s guessing algorithm is still working, though. You can type a character or two from the desired file’s name and the list will be narrowed. The most likely candidate appears in the bar, whereupon it can be opened by pressing ‘return’.

Applications with Services

For applications that offer text-based macOS services, pressing the space bar will activate the service. The bar then turns into a text-input field where you can enter text to be sent to the app. I often use this to launch Stickies to make a quick note. If it’s something more permanent I might use Yojimbo’s ‘New Note in Yojimbo’ service.

Bonus Tip: These services are accessible from a cold LaunchBar window. There’s no need to bring the app itself into the bar first. This could be useful if an app offers multiple services or is document-based, as the document picker takes precedence over services.

More than a launcher

These two seemingly small features are exemplary of what makes LaunchBar special. They’re small enhancements which, at least, save a few keystrokes and at most, could save several clicks and almost eliminate scanning through lists of files and folders.

It’s a launcher, but an extraordinary one.

See Also: The second instalment of this series on LaunchBar is Summon and Send, about the Instant Send feature.

16 April 2019