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Speeding Up Your Life With Launchbar

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Objective Development's Launchbar is an extremely powerful application launcher that I use countless times per day. Rather than give a boring overview of the more than 1000 features, I'm going to show you a few of the ways I use it on a daily basis. For the purposes of this tutorial, I'm going to imagine I've been commissioned to write an article on the history of black and white photography. As part of the article, I want to convert an image of my own to black and white. I've also got to do some research, and once I've the article written, submit it to the Editor.


An Introduction to Launchbar

How It Works

Launchbar is one of the most powerful applications available. Launchbar is, at it's root, a system wide search. When you trigger Launchbar with a keyboard shortcut, a search box pops up at the top of your screen. As you type, Launchbar suggests applications and files based on the letters you've entered, and what items you use most frequently. If you frequently open Google Chrome, it will soon learn that. An important point is that Launchbar works with abbreviations; the keys you enter need not be the first letters in the application of file you're looking for, nor even be sequential. For example, when I trigger Launchbar and press P, Launchbar assumes I want to open Photoshop. When I press PA, however, Launchbar assumes I want 1Password, even though PA is not the first "letter" in 1Password. The image below shows Launchbar's interface.

The Launchbar interface; a. The currently selected item. b. The path to the currently selected item. c. All search results. d. The abbreviation searched.
The Launchbar interface; a. The currently selected item. b. The path to the currently selected item. c. All search results. d. The abbreviation searched.

While Launchbar can be used purely as an application launcher, its real power is in what it does on top of launching applications. If you have a file selected in Launchbar, pressing tab lets you select an application to open it in, attach it to an email, move it to a new location, compress it to a zip file, or countless other options.

Getting Things Set Up

Download and install Launchbar. There is a free 30-day trial and a license costs $35. While this might sound expensive, I firmly believe it is worth every cent. Once you have Launchbar installed, you will be asked to configure what hotkey you would like to use to launch it. I use my remapped Caps Lock key, which I described how to do in a previous tutorial, How to Make Better Use of Your Caps Lock Key. Launchbar's developer's recommendation is that you use Command Space, which by default is used to activate Spotlight. Regardless of what shortcut you use to activate Launchbar, continue with the configuration until you get to the preference pane. To follow this tutorial, you need to ensure that Instant Send has a Modifier Tap assigned to it. I use double shift.

Launchbar preferences pane
Launchbar preferences pane

Once that's done, I can show you how I use Launchbar!


Photo Editing

Moving a File to the Desktop

I like to keep whatever files I'm working on on my Desktop for easy access, so I'm going to use Launchbar to move the picture that I'll be working on from my Downloads folder to there. To do this I trigger Launchbar with my hotkey, the Caps Lock key, and then hit DO so that Launchbar suggests Downloads.

Opening the Downloads folder in Launchbar
Opening the Downloads folder in Launchbar

If Launchbar has a folder selected, you can use the arrow keys to navigate the folder structure. By pressing the right arrow key Launchbar displays the list of files inside my Downloads folder. In this case it is just Keith.jpg but if I had other files they would be shown here also.

Browsing the Downloads folder
Browsing the Downloads folder

With Keith.jpg selected, pressing tab activates Launchbar's Send-to feature. Send-to allows me to open the file in any program that can handle it, perform any number of actions on the file, or as I want to now, move it to a new location. I hit DE so that Launchbar suggests I want to Drag to "Desktop". Hitting return presents an options menu as to whether I want the file moved or just copied. In this case, I'd select move as I don't need my Downloads folder cluttered with files.

Dragging Keith.jpg to the Desktop using Launchbar
Dragging Keith.jpg to the Desktop using Launchbar

Using Instant Send

With Keith.jpg now on my Desktop I'm going to use a different method to send it back to Launchbar. If I select Keith.jpg with the mouse and then pressing double-shift, the Instant Send hotkey I set up earlier, Launchbar will open with Keith.jpg as the active selection. Pushing tab activates Send-to which lets me choose what application I want to open the photo in in. In this case I hit PI to select Pixelmator. I hit return and Keith.jpg opens in Pixelmator.

Opening Keith.jpg in Pixelmator
Opening Keith.jpg in Pixelmator

Running Automator Actions

Once I'm done editing, I save a file called Keith_BW.jpg back to my Desktop. However, I took this picture with my DSLR so it is over 4000 pixels wide; The Editor only wants an image 600 pixels wide. Luckily, I have an Automator action that crops and resizes images to 600 pixels for just such a circumstance. I select Keith_BW.jpg and, once again, hit double-shift to send the file to Launchbar. Once there, I hit tab to activate Send-to followed by CROP to select my Crop to 600px Automator action.I hit return and the 4000+ pixel wide version of Keith_BW.jpg is replaced with a 600 pixel wide one.

Using an Automator action to crop a picture
Using an Automator action to crop a picture

Researching an Article

Search Templates

One of my most used features of Launchbar is Search Templates. A lot of websites use URL based search schemes. For example, if you search Google for Harry Guinness, Google does so using the URL https://www.google.com/search?q=harry+guinness. If you replace the bit that follows /search?q= with a variable, then you can convert that variable into whatever string you are searching for and have a valid URL for Google's search results. This is what Launchbar's Search Templates do. For my article, I need to do some research on the history of black and white photography. I activate Launchbar and hit GO so that Launchbar suggest the Google Search Template.

The Google Search Template
The Google Search Template

To use it, I hit space to open a dialogue field. Then I enter whatever search query I like, in this case, history of black and white photography.

Searching Google using Launchbar
Searching Google using Launchbar

When I hit return, Launchbar opens up my default browser, opens a new tab and navigates to the Google search results page for history of black and white photography. Launchbar comes with many common websites search templates like Wikipedia, Google Maps and YouTube already configured. You can also set up your own.

The Google results
The Google results

ClipMerge and Clipboard History

Launchbar also has some great clipboard improvements. While I'm doing my preliminary research, I want to build a list of potential sources. I've done the first step of this by searching for information on the history of black and white photography. Now I want to add a list of the top few URLs to a text file. I open the first link, Wikipedia's article on History of photography and copy its URL to the clipboard with Command C as usual. Then I open the next article, one from the New York Institute of Photography, highlight its URL and then, rather than pressing Command C, I hit Command C C. By pressing C twice, I activate Launchbar's ClipMerge feature which combines multiple items into a single item on the clipboard.

Copying a link to the clip board
Copying a link to the clip board

After I copy the URL from the third article again using Command C C to activate ClipMerge, I can paste all three links with one press of Command V. As far as the clipboard is concerned, they are one item. Launchbar also gives you access to your clipboard history. With Launchbar active, hitting Command K gives you access to the most recent ten items you've cut or copied; any of which you can now paste in. I can't express how useful this is when you're manipulating text!

Exploring Clipboard History with Launchbar
Exploring Clipboard History with Launchbar

Playing a Song

Searching for a Song in Spotify

As I'm settling down to write the article, I have a sudden urge to listen to the mid-90s Danish pop group Aqua. Rather than opening Spotify to find a song, I activate Launchbar, hit SP to select Spotify and then hit space to enter text into the Browse in Spotify field. I enter Aqua and press return.

Searching Spotify for Aqua, the mid-90s Danish pop group
Searching Spotify for Aqua, the mid-90s Danish pop group

Spotify opens up and Launchbar has already told it to search for Aqua. Now I can select one of my favourite hits to play, such as Barbie Girl, or Doctor Jones.

Browsing Aqua in Spotify
Browsing Aqua in Spotify

Submitting the Article

Attaching the Files to an Email

A few hours later, I have the article written. I need to send the two files on my Desktop, Keith_BW.jpg and The Article.rtf to The Editor. I just select both files and hit my Instant Send shortcut, double-shift to activate both files in Launchbar.

Selecting items with Instant Send
Selecting items with Instant Send

Then I hit tab to activate Send-to and SP to select Sparrow, my email program.

Attaching the files to an email
Attaching the files to an email

Once I hit return, Sparrow opens a new email with the two files attached. No clicking around Attach menus required.

The files are now attached to a new email
The files are now attached to a new email

Conclusion

This tutorial is in no way a comprehensive overview of the incredibly feature packed Launchbar. It is just a small example of how I use some of Launchbar's features on a daily basis. If you too are a Launchbar user, comment below and let me know what great features you use the most.

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