About a month ago, after reading many enthusiastic comments on the latest version of LaunchBar, I decided to give it another try. I had already tried LaunchBar before — five or six years ago — but quickly discovered it just didn’t fit in with my workflow and how I organise things on my Macs. As I’ve said many times, I like my computer habits like the next tech-savvy guy, but I’m also willing to change them because it helps me stay nimble.
The first smart launcher I tried integrating in my workflow was Quicksilver, probably around 2004–2005. Quicksilver was (is) powerful, extensible, versatile, but the major obstacle I struggled with for a long while was its learning curve. I tried and tried but never got to a point where things stopped being frustrating and started being rewarding. I kept forgetting shortcuts or confusing them, and the few things I’d memorised were of little use when I assisted friends or clients with their Macs (that was a particularly busy period as a Mac consultant).
So, at the time, my solution was to stop trying assimilating new way to do stuff with Quicksilver, and to remain at a stage where things were manageable, memorable, and where my muscle memory had developed enough inside the Quicksilver logic to enjoy the tool without making typing mistakes and the like. Sadly, I soon realised that, at that level, there was really no point in using Quicksilver instead of the tools provided by Mac OS X itself — system tools I was quite comfortable (and accustomed to) using before taking the Quicksilver path.
Now, LaunchBar’s learning curve is nothing like Quicksilver’s (at least, nothing like the Quicksilver version’s I was using at that time). The déjà vu I’m talking about, which I felt these weeks while trying LaunchBar again, is that — like Quicksilver some ten years ago — I ended up using LaunchBar to do things I already do, quite efficiently, with a mix of Mac OS X’s built-in features and third-party apps.
I know, applications like LaunchBar offer the advantage of centralisation: searching, launching applications, opening documents, playing media, all these actions (and many more) can be conveniently performed from the same software interface. They are like sophisticated Swiss Army knives with an amazing array of features. But when you really need a pocket knife to cut or pierce stuff, and occasionally open bottles, getting a Swiss Army knife with 25 different tools is just too much. Not only that, when you’re looking for the 3 tools you use most often, having to go through the whole selection every time slows you down a bit.
There’s nothing wrong with LaunchBar. Don’t mistake this article for some vague criticism aimed at this particular software. During this month I spent trying LaunchBar, I did appreciate its interface and features, and if you automatise a lot of tasks, you should by all means give LaunchBar a try. I automatise very little and don’t rely on fixed workflows (if you’re interested in knowing why, I talk about this in more detail in On workflows and automatisation, a piece I wrote a year ago; nothing has changed since then), so most of the time I just need tools to:
- Perform quick searches — Spotlight is enough for this.
- Perform in-depth searches in places Spotlight won’t look, and for which I need an interface capable of showing me the full path to a file or folder — Find Any File is my favourite tool for this particular task.
- Perform the occasional search of preference/cache/document files related to a specific application — For this, I use AppZapper.
- Perform the occasional visual search (e.g. looking for a certain photo in a folder with more than 1000 items, all with too generic filenames) — For this, I really like Raskin.
- Launch applications — Again, Spotlight does the job pretty well.
I’m aware that this is a more fragmented approach, but it actually revolves around Spotlight, which is the tool I use most frequently. When I need the aid of the aforementioned third-party applications — something that happens only occasionally — I launch them via Spotlight. And each of those third-party applications has the right user interface for the job.
With this kind of setup, I really don’t know where to put LaunchBar. While I was testing it, I realised I was using it to do the same things I usually do with Spotlight and little more. Everything else was just too occasional to warrant learning new shortcuts, abbreviations or sequences of actions. In short, despite being a great application, I have to acknowledge (once again) that LaunchBar is simply overkill for my needs, and it’s pointless to keep trying to hammer it into my general daily workflow when I’m more efficient with my current tried-and-tested solutions.