Quicksilver vs. Spotlight

Wednesday, December 17 2008 @ 04:37 PM EST

Contributed by: Admin

WOW it's been a long time since I've updated this. :-) And, sad to say, 10.5's Dock still sucks out loud. I found a new annoyance: the "Open in Finder" option shows up at the BOTTOM of a menu, so if you just want to open a folder that's in your Dock but you've got a lot of things in it, you have to click, scroll to the bottom of the list, THEN you can finally see the magic "View in Finder" option. But that's not what I'm here to talk about today.

I've seen a lot of articles about launching apps on a Mac and a lot of people, when hearing about QuickSilver, say "Well I just use Spotlight. Why use QuickSilver?" Here is my response.

First of all, let me concede that yes, QuickSilver is much more limited than Spotlight. QuickSilver is NOT a systemwide search tool. It is primarily an application launcher. (It also does many other things, but general search is not one of them.) This is strictly in response to people who say "Why use QuickSilver? Spotlight is good enough for me."

QuickSilver is much, much faster. Even on a new Mac, Spotlight can lag. On an "old" Mac (like my 2 GHz G5 with 1 GB RAM) Spotlight is painful. And I put "old" in quotes because by any measure, a machine with two 2 GHz CPUs and ONE GIGABYTE of memory SHOULD be fast. On anything with, say, a single G4 CPU (which is not necessarily all that old--my Mac mini is only 3 years old, and my friend's PowerBook G4 is just a bit older than that) using Spotlight is just absolute misery. Part of why it's fast is because it is searching through a small prebuilt catalog. Spotlight indexes your hard drive so it is searching through less data than the old (10.3 and earlier) "Find" which did a live search across the entire drive every time you called it. But it is still a big index. QuickSilver's is very small, so even if you just finished doing something disk-intensive, like working in iMovie for a while, QuickSilver launches fast. Even if it has to read its catalog off the disk, that loads in a second or two, and then the app is very responsive after that. Usually the catalog is small enough that it can be held in RAM forever and the interface comes up literally at the same moment you finish the key combination to invoke it. Compare that to Spotlight, which has to grind its way through a large catalog on disk, and if the disk is busy... forget about it.

Besides being faster to launch, QuickSilver is also faster to use because, unlike Spotlight, the first option is already selected. For example, in QuickSilver, if you want to launch Safari, you press (keyboard shortcut), SAFARI, enter. In Spotlight, it's (keyboard shortcut), SAFARI, down, enter. One extra keystroke. Not a lot, but why use 4 keystrokes when you can use 3?

Both can autocomplete--so Safari might come up as soon as you've gotten as far as SA--but QuickSilver LEARNS. "IC" might bring up iChat and iCal, but Spotlight will always list them in the same order, so you might have to go down a few times to get the one you really want. QuickSilver, on the other hand, gives more weight to things you use more often, to the point where your most common apps can be launched with a single letter--T for Terminal, S for Safari, etc.

Besides LEARNING, QuickSilver is SMART to begin with. It recognizes initials and can search for letters ANYWHERE within an app's name. So it immediately suggests "Chicken of the VNC" if you type in "VNC", "Remote Desktop Connection" if you type in "RDC", and even "Photoshop" if you enter "PS". And like I said, it'll learn. If you decide you want to launch iTunes with NES, just do (keyboard shortcut) NES, find iTunes on the list, launch it, and the next time you type (keyboard shortcut) NES, iTunes will be at the top of the list.

There are also a lot of other things I like about QuickSilver, and it can do a TON more than I use it for. These are just the few high points of why it blows Spotlight out of the water. (Just google for "quicksilver tutorial" for lots of info and videos.) And it's free and open-source so it'll always be around and will never cost anything.