The Bare Facts:
Software Title: LaunchBar
Developer: Objective Development ( www.obdev.at )
Platform: Mac OS X / NeXTSTEP
Genre: System Utility / Productivity
License / Price: Shareware, $25 $20
WonkoRating: Upvote, C!



All right. Take a moment to shift your focus from Everythingto 2 that most barren of wastelands, your hard drive. Now, if you've used a computer for any length of time, you've probably set up some shortcuts on your computer to allow you access certain files with a minimum of overhead. Fair enough.







Now imagine that you can access anything on your hard drive.

Instantly.

Sounds enticing, doesn't it?

Behold the power of LaunchBar!



"OK," you ask, "but HOW does this most wonderful of contraptions actually help me?" sigh.

In Mac OS X, a user has two default methods of accessing files: The Finder and the Dock. All running applications are displayed in the Dock; commonly accessed files, applications, web sites, etcetera, can all be placed in the Dock, somewhat akin to the Start button on Windows. The Finder, on the other hand, is the equivalent of Windows Explorer: it browses the entire file structure of your hard drive. Accessing your favorite item from the Finder takes many clicks; opening the same item from the Dock takes one.

In that respect, the Dock is quite nice, but it has a problem: limited space. Unless you make your dock tinier than a termite's dick, you won't be able to fit more than a dozen items or so in it. This is where LaunchBar comes in.

Rather than a simple Dock extender, LaunchBar is a whole paradigm in and of itself. Basic operation goes something like this:

  1. Press Command-Space to open the LaunchBar tab. A smallish (300x20 pixel) tab will drop down in the upper right corner of the screen.
  2. Type a few characters that match the name of what you're looking for. Examples: Microsoft Word v.X => "WO", BBEdit => "BB", Everything2.com => "E2"
  3. LaunchBar will search through an optimized selective index of your hard drive and compose a list of results the moment you hit the first key, paring the search as you add characters. By the time you're done typing, LaunchBar is done searching. A list of the final results then pops down from the tab, with the first entry selected.
  4. You can open the selected entry with Return and navigate through the entires with the arrow keys or a mouse. Voila! You've found and opened what you want. Time passed: 0.8 seconds.


    Comment: Clean Screen, before we do anything. 'appl' is a purdy Apple icon, 
    'lbi' is the LaunchBar menu icon.
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    |appl  Finder  File  Edit  View  Go  Window  Help                                                       Wed 6:42:42  lbi |
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    |                    ________________________________________________________________________________                    |
    |                   | Finder    iTunes    LaunchBar     Adium    Some          Some    |    Trash    |                   |
    |                   |  icon      icon       icon        icon     icon          icon    |     icon    |                   |
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    After pressing Command-Space (the "Search Result" that appears here is simply left over from the last search): -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- |appl Finder File Edit View Go Window Help Wed 6:42:42 lbi | | l Terminal -- /Applications/Utilities TE | | ++-----------------------------------------------| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | ________________________________________________________________________________ | | | Finder iTunes LaunchBar Adium Some Some | Trash | | | | icon icon icon icon icon icon | icon | | -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Then after typing "wo" (The first result should be highlighted, but that's damned hard to do with ASCII art: -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- |appl Finder File Edit View Go Window Help Wed 6:42:42 lbi | | l Microsoft Word -- /Applications/ WO | | ++-----------------------------------------------| | | Microsoft Word -- Applications | | | | Watson -- Applications | | | | Wolfram * http://www.wolfram.com | | | | other | | | | search | | | | results ... | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | ________________________________________________________________________________ | | | Finder iTunes LaunchBar Adium Some Some | Trash | | | | icon icon icon icon icon icon | icon | | -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Additional notes:

LaunchBar can be told exactly how to search your hard drive. You can tell it to search certain folders for certain kinds of files, and can specify whether to search subfolders or not. You can configure the kinds of files to search for; for example, you can have the "Music" category of .EXTentions be MP3s, WAV files, MIDI files, AIFF files, and whatever music encoding you might have. You could then have it search the directory where iTunes keeps it's music, and thus be able to listen to your favorite song in three or four keypresses.

Not only can you set LaunchBar up to search for files, but LaunchBar has parsing capabilities as well. What that means is that you can have it figure out what your bookmarks are, and then you can search through your bookmarks (Browsers include Internet Explorer, OmniWeb, Mozilla (and variants), and iCab).

Not only can LaunchBar parse bookmark files, it can parse your contacts as well, so you can type a friend's initials into LaunchBar, press enter, and have a new email message open up automagically addressed to your friend.

LaunchBar comes preconfigured to search your Music, Pictures, Movies, Documents, Applications, Developer Documentation, and bookmarks. From there, it can be customized however you wish.

While some people might protest that $25$20 is expensive for a shareware program, they probably have yet to see the true beauty and power that is LaunchBar. Although I wouldn't go so far as to say that LaunchBar is a good reason to Switch™ to Mac OS X, if you're already have a Mac, I HIGHLY recommend that you check this program out. Now. Go!

Update: generic-man reminds me that LaunchBar 4, in late beta as of September 26, 2004, has a number of new features ranging from web searching to a new low price. Doubleplusgood.