As you know, Editorially (which was awesome), shut its doors recently. Over at The Sweet Setup, we used Editorially every single day — it was our ideal collaborative writing tool.

Jeff Abbott wrote an overview of what made Editorially so great and what some of the alternatives are. As he states, after trying just about every other alternative we could find, we’ve moved to Google Docs for our collaborative writing work.

This week, on my podcast, The Weekly Briefly, I talk about the connection between staying creative and building a delightful product. Both have the same “guiding principles”, in that they are expressions of serving others.

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Gigabit’d

Two years ago, Google started bringing fiber to Kansas City. And it took them until today to make their way to my house.

Google Fiber

In the 2 years between their original announcement and when service became available in my neighborhood, I thought quite a bit about if I was willing to let Google be my Internet Service Provider.

The biggest question I had to ask myself: will Google be using my online activity to sell me ads? The answer is: certainly.

So then I had to ask myself if I was okay with that. And the answer is: yes I am.

Google is already trying to sell me ads. They have been ever since I signed up for the Gmail beta back in 2006 or whenever.

Obviously, now that they’re my ISP, they will be able to garner more information about my house. Basically they now have visibility into anything we do online that’s not an encrypted transaction, such as the movies we stream from Netflix, the products we browse on Amazon, what songs we stream over Rdio, every website we visit, and who knows what else. It sounds creepy when you put it like that, but it’s also no different than any other ISP relationship I’ve had (AOL, Time Warner, Verizon, AT&T). It’s just that none of the others were in to Big Data as much as Google is.

And it’s not dangerous. All our most sensitive information is still safe because it’s transferred over encrypted connections (emails, passwords, iMessages, SSL encrypted sites like my bank, et al.).

All that to say, I am comfortable with Google as my ISP. Because in exchange, I now have internet speeds that are 20 times faster than the fastest I could pay TWC to provide. And it’s for the same price of $70/month.

Google Fiber Speed Test

In many ways, the faster speeds won’t have a huge impact on my day-to-day life. Just because I have 20x faster internet doesn’t mean I will get 20x more work done. My Rdio songs won’t sound any better, my emails won’t send or receive all that noticeably quicker, etc.

But Netflix will stream in higher quality. My daily podcast now uploads in one second (literally). Safari will connect to websites and servers quicker thanks to the fantastic ping rate with Google Fiber, and media-rich sites will load sooner. Big file downloads will be noticeably faster. And who knows what else.

Moreover, it seems worth mentioning that the entire signup and installation process for Google Fiber was incredible. Believe it or not, Google was extremely organized, friendly, clear, and efficient. All of the automated systems they had in place for contacting me when Fiber became available, and for helping me schedule the installation were clear and easy. The technicians who came to my house to run the lines and set up the network box were very friendly. And the one time I had to call customer service to re-schedule an appointment, the lady I spoke to on the phone knew exactly what she was talking about. So far, I’ve been impressed with the whole process and service.

Thursday, June 26

Awesome breakdown by Brian Lovin on all the little details and interactions in Path.

Path is such a well-designed app. I used for a while back, and very much enjoyed how it works as an app, but as another social network it never stuck for me. I also had considered using it as my personal journal of sorts, but Day One is just so much better suited to that.

There are a lot of things that make Path, as an app, truly great. But how long will they be around? In all seriousness, assuming Path gets acquired and shut down one day, or just flat out shuts down, what will become of its inspirational design and engineering?

(Via Marcelo Somers.)

Wednesday, June 25

Certainly the best-looking smartwatch out there. I’m still a bit blown away by the fact it’s a round display. But: Price? Battery life? How does it charge? How many people will be using (and still enjoying) their Moto 360 in a year from now?

Sean Madden, writing for Wired on the fine line between “magic” and frustration:

The average smartphone user interacts with his or her mobile device over 100 times per day, and the majority of those interactions fall into just a few categories: opening an app, selecting from a list, bringing up a keyboard, and so on. If each of them is imbued with too much visual whiz-bang, using your phone becomes the digital equivalent of eating birthday cake for every meal.

It’s a great article, and what Sean talks about is exactly what Ben and I hit on in last week’s episode of The Weekly Briefly.

In short: whizbang features are cool and they look especially delightful in a press release. But the hallmark features of our gadgets are nowhere close to the most used features. How fast do apps launch, how easy is it to navigate the device, how smooth is the scrolling? These “boring” features are the ones we interact with a hundred times per day. And that’s why you’ve got to get the fundamental stuff right, because that is what ultimately defines the user’s experience as delightful or not.

And so, if you get the fundamentals wrong — by being poorly engineered or over-designed — then it’s like gluing a piece of gravel inside your customer’s $650 running shoes.

P.S. I literally wrote a book on this subject. It’s called Delight is in the Details and as we speak I’m up to my ears in a big update. If you want to follow along with the new work I’m adding to the book, you can learn more here.

Tuesday, June 24

Jim Dalrymple:

The ABC channel will feature live, multi-streaming video and on-demand content, entertainment news, live hourly updates, original programming and video highlights.

PBS Kids is only available in the US and will feature full-length episodes and clips of popular shows including Curious George, Dinosaur Train, Peg + Cat, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Arthur, Wild Kratts and Sesame Street.

Nice! Maybe the PBS Kids channel can help me reclaim my Netfilx recommendations.

Also on the update, is a new Flickr app that has just about all the same functionality of the iOS (er, iPhone) app.

Monday, June 23

This week’s Sweet Setup interview is with Joe Caiati. I like his story about why, when upgrading, he chose to go with the 5c.

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Friday, June 20

This week I’m joined by my pal, Ben Brooks, to talk about the Amazon Fire phone and Amazon compared to Apple as two different manifestations of companies that have “obsessive attention to detail”.

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Ben Thompson has an excellent article regarding the Amazon Fire phone:

What we expected from Amazon was along the lines of Jeff Bezos’s promise for the Fire tablet line: “Premium products at non-premium prices.”

Instead the Fire Phone is right up there with an iPhone 5S when it comes to price, and it’s sold with the exact same contract you would get with that iPhone. There is no margin compression, no subsidized data. There’s nothing different at all. Unlike the Fire tablets, which most assume are sold at near cost in order to drive usage of Amazon’s services — especially Prime video and Kindle books — the Fire phone seems unlikely to attract any new customers to the Amazon ecosystem. And perhaps, that is what makes it so different: the Fire Phone seems to be not only a different strategy for Amazon, but a new kind of smartphone strategy full-stop.

Stephen Hackett regarding the Amazon Fire phone:

Since the Fire Phone isn’t going to burn down (sorry) any existing market leaders, it’s only fair to assume that Amazon’s main push here is to make it easier to buy things.

Yes. I’d say absolutely Amazon’s main push with this phone is to make it easier to buy things. You have to look no further than the dedicated hardware button that if you hold down for a second will launch Firefly. But why not? Why not make a device that’s targeted at your most loyal customers?

My question is if Firefly will make its way to other smartphones via an update to the Amazon app, or perhaps a new Amazon Firefly app altogether? Because what about folks like me who use Prime all the time but who won’t be buying a Fire phone?

The Verge’s short hands-on video from the Amazon Fire Phone event

Yesterday I again had the privilege of being a guest on the Quit podcast with Dan Benjamin and Haddie Cook. We talked a lot about doing awesome work for the work’s sake, building an audience, the importance of consistency (when trying to build a successful blog, podcast, etc.), and more.

Thursday, June 19

DropVox is one of those apps that does one thing and does it very well. You launch the app, hit the big red record button to start, hit it again to stop, and then your voice memo is uploaded to a folder in your Dropbox.

I’ve been using DropVox for years as my go-to voice memo app for years. I even have a super nerdy Hazel workflow that can take my DropVox recordings and upload them to my Amazon S3 account and then text message me the URL so I can literally record and publish a podcast from my iPhone (assuming my Mac is on and connected somewhere in the world).

I love how simple it is, and it’s also quite reliable — it’s never lost a recording. And just today, version 2.0 shipped. It’s universal, (finally) updated for iOS 7, lets you pause a recording, and it now records in mp3 instead of m4a. As far as simple, do one thing well, voice memo apps go, DropVox is one of the best.

Just 2 bucks in the App Store.

Wednesday, June 18

Justin Lancy has a slew of useful scripts for taking those bazillion Safari or Chrome tabs you have open and tossing them into your app of choice. I’ve been using the Safari to OmniFocus script for a few years now — it’s great for the times when I want to clean up or call it quits for the day, yet I still have several (mostly unrelated) tabs open in Safari.

Related: I save a Pinboard tab set (using the Pinboard Safari extension) when I have a list of tabs that are related (such as when I’m doing research on a particular subject).

In short, if you’re using OmniFocus 2 for Mac and you want to link email messages, files on your computer, or other things to an OmniFocus to-do item, then install this new Clip-o-Tron. I was having trouble with the Send to OmniFocus Inbox action, and so I wrote an AppleScript that did something similar. But my script was acting buggy for me, and before I had time to work out the kinks the folks at OmniGroup posted this. Much better.

You can now get an iMac for $1,099. And just a few months ago Apple dropped the price of the Airs as well — you can get one for $899. These are prices that used to be found only in the refurbished section.

And these computers are more future proof than ever. My 3-year old MacBook Air still feels ultra snappy thanks to its SSD, and it still gets 4+ hours of battery life (though 4 hours is a fraction of what today’s laptop’s get, it’s still pretty darn good for a 36-month old machine). Though the fans do kick in to overdrive whenever I open up Lightroom to do a bunch of photo processing, we’ve not yet turned the corner into unbearable beachball city.

Tuesday, June 17

We just published our latest review over on The Sweet Setup, and it’s for simple list making apps. Our pick is Clear because it has Mac, iPhone, and iPad versions that sync, it’s simple yet extremely flexible.

Monday, June 16

Yours truly, writing for Macworld:

I’ve used LaunchBar long enough that its actions have become second nature: When I want to launch an app, open a particular file, or perform one of the countless other actions and tasks LaunchBar can handle, it’s a matter of muscle memory—I rarely have to stop my train of thought to think about navigating my computer. And as someone who does creative work with pixels and words every day, preserving my mental energy is just as important as, if not more important than, saving time (though the reality is that LaunchBar does both). In short, LaunchBar helps me to stay focused on doing my best creative work.

Not a lot new in my Macworld review of LaunchBar that I didn’t write about in the review I posted here last week. But I’m linking it up because it’s my first published work for Macworld and frankly I’m pretty proud about it. Crazy to see my LaunchBar article featured on the home page right next to the inimitable Jason Snell.

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A huge thanks to JetPens for sponsoring the RSS feed this week. By far and away my favorite pen is the above-mentioned Signo 0.38 which I first got from JetPens. The JetPens folks set up a deal so that if you spend $25 ordering cool gear from their site, they’ll add one of the best pens in the world to your order for free.

Friday, June 13

On this week’s episode of The Weekly Briefly, I talk about the subject of impostor syndrome and how it can hinder us creating art, sharing our work, and teaching others.

Sponsored by:

Kidpost is a service that makes photo sharing for families pretty awesome.

When you post a picture of your kids (or anything, really) to Instagram or Facebook, you just hashtag it with #kidpost. Then, the Kidpost service grabs those photos once a day and sends them out in an awesome email to any of your friends and family that you choose to be on the list.

The service is now in public beta, so if you want to give it a spin you can. I’ve been using Kidpost for the past month and it’s great.

But I will say that I’m not quite as excited about the service as I was back in January, because my parents and parents-in-law have all since signed up for Instagram.

And speaking of LaunchBar 6 actions and extensions, I stumbled across a few really great ones on the Objective Development forum.

  • This one for searching and viewing you Pinboard bookmarks right from within LaunchBar is awesome.

  • And this one that hooks in with the FeedWrangler API pretty much turns LaunchBar into a full-blown RSS reader with the ability to browse all items, send a specific item to Instapaper (or your read later service you have hooked up with FeedWrangler), and to mark the item as read.

The Safari Tabs extension is especially great (it’s an action that lets you view all your currently open tabs in all Safari windows). There’s also an extension for searching YouTube and one for searching DuckDuckGo, both featuring LaunchBar 6′s new ability to show live search suggestions.

Some great improvements related to images: you can view and post multiple images in a tweet, tapping on an image in a user’s profile view shows you the corresponding tweet that it was from, and Instagram videos now show a play icon. Ahhhh.

Command Space: A Review of LaunchBar and a History of Application Launchers

For the persnickety power-user, there is but one way to navigate around a computer: with the keyboard.

Let’s talk about application launchers

Want to launch an app on your Mac? There is, ahem, an app for that.

Whenever I do a clean install of my Mac (which is less often these days), the first application I download is LaunchBar.

Because to me, my application launcher is how I get around my computer. Without LaunchBar installed it’s like I’m at a friend’s house, trying to navigate to the kitchen in the middle of the night and I can’t find the light switches and I keep stubbing my toes on the furniture.

On average, I bring up LaunchBar about 40 times per day when I’m working at my computer. I spend about 6 of my working hours at my Mac, which equates to using LaunchBar about once every 10 minutes.

I’ve been using a Mac for 10 years. My first application launcher was Quicksilver, but when it farted out on Snow Leopard in 2009 I switched to LaunchBar. In 2011 I spent several months using Alfred, and I’ve switched over to it on occasion since then as well to stay abreast of its development.

There are plenty of other apps I spend more time in, but none I use more frequently than my application launcher.

If ever there was an app that needed to be as frictionless as possible, it would be the application launcher. It should come up instantly when prompted, it should respond instantly, and I should never feel lost or confused when using it. The whole point is fast launching and fast actions.

Some use cases for an application launcher include launching apps, launching bookmarks, launching AppleScripts, performing custom searches on various sites, doing quick mathematical calculations, opening files, getting at the recently-opened files within a certain app, accessing the clipboard history, performing actions on files (like grabbing a document and attaching it to an email, or resizing an image), and more.

Bottom line, what makes an application launcher such a critical tool is that it’s the fastest way launch and act on common apps, documents, bookmarks, and more.

But it doesn’t end there. LaunchBar and Alfred actually become more personalized as you use them. They literally learn your behavior by weighting certain search results and findings based on your usage over time, and they can be customized to only index the things you’re interested in accessing so that they act as fast as possible.

With Yosemite, Apple has promoted Spotlight to a more front-and-center position, and they are giving it a bit more “power”. So where did this idea of an application launcher come from? I’m glad you asked…

Other application launchers

Though LaunchBar is the original (not including the NeXTSTEP Dock), it’s not the only application launcher available on the Mac today.

For the sake of this article, an application launcher will be defined as any tool on your computer which provides a shortcut to finding and activating files and programs.

The Dock, for example, is the premier application launcher and it ships with OS X. Spotlight is also an application launcher. And there is Launchpad, but does anybody use it?

There are two functions that I consider to be the most important with an application launcher: (a) quickly finding and launching applications, files, and more; and (b) instantly activating an application or script with the use of a pre-defined global hotkey.

Alas, LaunchBar, which is this author’s application launcher of choice, does not have global keyboard shortcuts built in. Alfred and Quicksilver do. And so, in order to instantly activate an application I use a second application, Keyboard Maestro. For example: Mail is Shift+Command+M; Tweetbot is Alt+Command+T; nvALT is Alt+Command+N.

Though the Dock is convenient and ever-present, there are some shortcomings that a dedicated application launcher such as LaunchBar solves. And, in fact, it was this type of shortcoming that actually lead to the development of LaunchBar — the original 3rd-party application launcher.

An aside about Alfred

I think it’s fair to say that the king of the Application Launcher Market is Alfred. I conducted a detailed survey back in 2011 and another more casual one a few months ago, and the majority response to those surveys was that people use Alfred as their application launcher of choice.

Moreover, Alfred is what I recommend over at The Sweet Setup as one of the applications all moderately computer savvy folks should use on their Mac.

Alfred is, without question, a fantastic app. It is actively maintained, well designed, easy to use, and extremely powerful. The reason I pick it for people new to application launchers is that it’s easy to ease in to (when you type into the field, you can take as long as you like), it’s free for the basic feature set, and then you can grow into it if you want to buy the power pack.

But I personally prefer LaunchBar for a few reasons…

LaunchBar

My reasons for using LaunchBar are two fold. For one, I like the way LaunchBar handles Instant Send, browsing recent documents in apps, and its clipboard manager. Secondly, I like that LaunchBar is the original application launcher. It has a long and rich history of development on the Mac that spans literally 20 years. And I’m the sort of fellow who appreciates things like that.

So, all this to say, my review of and praise for LaunchBar is not a simultaneous knock against Alfred. I hope that, regardless of your Application Launcher of Choice, you can enjoy this article for what it is: a story about one of the finest and oldest Mac applications still in active development.

The “Command+Space” Origin Story

The original application launcher was, in fact, LaunchBar. It started back in 1995 and ran on NeXTSTEP.

About 11 years ago, Norbert Heger, the original developer of LaunchBar, shared about the history of this fine app in an interview with Derrick Story.

In the interview, Norbert shares about how when your files are organized with hierarchical structure it is more difficult to get to them quickly. And the sort of person who cares about organized hierarchal structure with their files, folders, is likely to be the sort of person who also cares about being able to get to all of those files and folders and applications quickly because they spend a lot of time making the most out of their computer.

And so, in 1995, LaunchBar began. At first it was a collection of shell scripts and a Terminal window. But as the internal team over at Objective Development used it more and more, they realized that it was a tool the general public would probably benefit from. So in 1996 they released a public beta.

Norbert Heger:

The very first “prototype” was not even an application. It all began with dozens of little shell scripts and a tiny Terminal window. Each of the scripts had a very short one- or two-letter name and just opened one specific application or document. The Terminal window was placed in one of the screen corners, allowing us to bring it to the front quickly using the mouse. When we wanted to launch Interface Builder, for instance, we just had to click that screen corner, enter “IB” (the name of the script we’ve prepared to launch Interface Builder) and hit Return.

From there they developed a rating algorithm and automatic indexing so that you wouldn’t have to write new shell scripts for every app, file, or folder you wanted to launch.

They also came up with the keyboard shortcut that we still use today:

Johannes Tiefenbrunner “invented” the Command-Space hotkey back in 1995. In NEXTSTEP it was nearly impossible to implement a system wide hotkey, but Johannes found a way to patch the Display Postscript Server (also responsible for dispatching keyboard and mouse events), allowing us to activate LaunchBar with a single keystroke. Fortunately, these things became much easier to accomplish in Mac OS X.

LaunchBar 1, running on NeXTSTEP — Circa 1995

LaunchBar version 1

LaunchBar 2, running on Rhapsody

LaunchBar version 2

In 2001, Objective Development ported LaunchBar to OS X. They gave it a mostly “default looking” design, which stayed pretty consisted for the next 12 years.

LaunchBar versions 3 – 5 all looked just about like this:

LaunchBar 4

But today, the design is changing.

LaunchBar 6:

LaunchBar version 6

What’s New in LaunchBar 6?

Quite a bit, in fact. In short, LaunchBar looks better, has access to more items on your Mac (like iCloud tabs!), and you can now write and install custom workflows.

LaunchBar 6 is the first paid update to LaunchBar since 2010. If you’re a longtime LaunchBar user, the $19 upgrade price is well worth it. There’s also now a free version of LaunchBar, that gives you access to all the features, but has a limit on how frequently you can launch it.

The all-new look.

LaunchBar 6 Themes

Bigger font. Central location on the screen. It’s reminiscent of Alfred a bit (and even the new Spotlight coming in Yosemite), but yet it’s still very LaunchBar-y.

I like the new look quite a bit. Still has some of the things I like about LaunchBar, but with some cool things from Alfred brought over.

And there are themes: Bright, Dark, Default, Frosty, and Small. The “Small” theme is the previous LaunchBar design seen in version 5. I personally like the “Frosty” theme — it has an iOS 7- (and now Yosemite-)esque transparency to it. You can also customize your own theme if you want, though it’s a hack.

Actions, Extensions, and Workflows

LaunchBar has always come with some clever actions built in. For example, you can create a TinyURL link, send a tweet, eject any and all ejectable volumes that are mounted to your Mac, have Mail refresh in the background, upload images to Flickr, and more.

Many of these actions and workflows are things which OS X already handles, and LaunchBar just makes it easier to get to. And they aren’t necessarily all actions that do something, but also can serve as quick access to various things.

For example, there is an action that lets you browse the list of all currently open Safari tabs. So, say you want to email or tweet a link to one of the 41 tabs that you know you have open. You don’t have to navigate to Safari and peruse through all the tabs to find the one — you can use LaunchBar to scroll through your list of currently open Safari tabs, find the one you want and then act on that URL (which means you could convert it to a short URL, you could use it as the body text for composing a new email, you could tweet it out, you could simply copy it to the clipboard, etc.).

LaunchBar 6 is more flexible when it comes to the ability for users to create their own workflows and custom actions. Not only can you create Automator Workflows that interact with LaunchBar (receiving input, sending back results, etc.), but you can also write your own custom actions.

There is a documentation page on the Objective Development website which gives more details about how to write LaunchBar Actions.

I’ve been using the new LaunchBar for 10 weeks now, and I’ve yet to create a single custom action of my own that I didn’t already have in my previous versions of the app (such as a my custom Pinboard and Amazon searches). For one, I’m not a very good scripting programmer so I don’t even really know where to start. And perhaps I’m just not imaginative enough to think up ways my computing time would benefit from a custom action.

Because from where I’m sitting, all the built-in actions are pretty great already.

On Twitter, I asked any Alfred users to share what their must-have custom workflows were. Many answers were for things that LaunchBar already does out of the box: toggling Bluetooth, sending a tweet, doing a custom search on a website, adding a new task to Reminders, creating a new calendar event, and more.

One big difference between LaunchBar’s custom actions and Alfred’s is that with the latter you can assign a global hotkey to execute the action. But I use Keyboard Maestro to run all the custom scripts and macros that I want to be hotkey executable (such as this one which will take the current Safari tab and open it in Chrome).

Usage Reports

LaunchBar now keeps track of how often you open the Bar, what actions you perform, and how much time you’re saving. You can view your usage report by bringing up LaunchBar and hitting Opt+Cmd+U (or click the gear and click on Usage).

Live Search Results

You know how in Google when you’re typing in a search, the suggestions auto populate? That now happens in LaunchBar as well. It works with Google, Wikipedia, and a few others. Plus you can create your own custom live searches via LaunchBar Actions.

Emoji

LaunchBar 6 Emoji

Your emails, iMessages, and whatever else just got ten times more fancy with quick access to Emoji from within LaunchBar. Just type in “Emoji” and drill down. (Hi, Casey!)

Better iCloud Calendar and Reminders Integration

You can create iCloud reminders and calendar events from within the app.

If you use reminders often, you can set up a shortcut to the specific iCloud Reminders list that you use most often to bring that one up right away. And because you can send text and things into LaunchBar, you could easily create reminders from selected text or URLs, etc.

You can also toggle which reminder lists and which calendars are indexable if you have some misc lists that you don’t use.

Unfortunately, using natural language for assigning dates and times to a reminder (such as: “take out the trash tomorrow at 2pm”) doesn’t translate to applying that specified time to the reminder (a limitation of Reminders, not LaunchBar). However, you can assign dates and times using the @ symbol and direct time stamps (with the date going before the time).

LaunchBar Reminders integration

As you can see in the above screenshot, how the reminder (or meeting) info is parsed is displayed within LaunchBar’s columns. The text of the reminder is “call mom” the calendar date is this coming Friday, June 13, and the time for the reminder is 5:30pm.

Using LaunchBar to create reminders isn’t bad, but Fantastical’s support for Reminders is a bit better because Fantastical has a superior natural language parser.

In addition to creating reminders, you can also view all the reminders in your list and even mark them as completed from within LaunchBar.

LaunchBar Completed Reminders

In short, LaunchBar now operates as a full-fledged iCloud Reminders client. Not bad if you prefer to use Apple’s Reminders app, but wish there was a better form of quick entry from the Mac.

Aside: thoughts on Application Launchers and their relationship with other apps and services

So long as we’re talking about how you can use LaunchBar to create calendar events and reminders, it brings up a question of just how integrated we want our application launcher to be with our other apps?

For example, LaunchBar has a “Send to OmniFocus Inbox” action that will take whatever bit of text, file, URL, or the like that you’ve sent in to LaunchBar and then create a new task in OmniFocus with that item. It’s quite clever and helpful, but it’s also the same functionality as the OmniFocus’s built-in Clipper.

You can also add Fantastical events with LaunchBar, control iTunes, refresh Mail, and more. The list goes on for how LaunchBar (and Alfred) integrate with other apps.

But there are many times where I prefer to use the native integration of my apps. There are pros and cons to both sides of the argument, of course. Take Fantastical for example: if you use LaunchBar to send an event to Fantastical then the advantage is that you only need to remember your LaunchBar shortcut key. Evoke the app, get Fantastical selected, hit space and type your calendar entry, then launch that text in to Fantastical and finalize the new event. But, I prefer the way Fantastical works when entering a new event. And so that means I have to remember my keyboard shortcut for launching Fantastical.

The advantage of using an application launcher as your central repository for anything and everything is that there is less to remember. However, the integration with the various apps and services is not always as polished compared to the native input methods built in to those apps themselves.

LaunchBar Tips

With an app that can do so much, sometimes it’s tough to know where to start. Here are a few tips for things I do.

  • Quick Send: If you hold Command+Space while there’s an item that is selected in the Finder or text that is selected in an app, then that item will be “sent” to LaunchBar and you can then act on it.

    For example, if I need to crop and resize an image in Photoshop, I’ll navigate to that image in the Finder, then hold Command+Space to bring up LaunchBar with the item selected.

    LaunchBar Instant Send

    Do you see the orange block arrow icon? That means LaunchBar is ready to act on that item, and whatever I type next is the action LaunchBar will take on the selected item. Typing “photoshop” will then give me the option to open that image in Photoshop. I hit Enter and off we go.

    I could type “flickr” instead and then be given the option to upload the image to Flickr, via OS X’s system level service.

  • Getting a contact’s address / email / phone number: When you’ve brought up LaunchBar, search for a contact’s name. Then, hit the right arrow key and you have access to their address card fields. From their you can select their phone number or email for copy and pasting into whatever application you’re working in. Great for when someone emails you asking for the contact info of a mutual friend, or a business contact. Or heck, if someone is on the other side of the room and asks for a phone number, you can display it in large type on your 27-inch monitor because why not?

  • Navigating and acting on recent documents in apps: No only can you use LaunchBar to launch any app on your computer, but LaunchBar also has visibility into the documents that you’ve recently had open in that app.

    So, say you want to open that spreadsheet again. Bring up LaunchBar and get Numbers selected. Then, tap the right arrow and you can drill down to see all the recent documents. And from there you have far more options than just to open them — you can tag them with a color, attach them to a new email message, preview them in QuickLook, and more.

  • Clipboard history: It boggles my mind that OS X doesn’t have some sort of clipboard history by default. Once you’ve used an app that manages and tracks your clipboard history you’ll wonder how you ever got by without it. The fact that now, Copy/Cut is not a potentially destructive action.

    To access your clipboard history in LaunchBar go to the Preferences → Clipboard. Make sure that “Show clipboard history” is selected, and set a hotkey for it. I use Opt+Cmd+\.

  • Creating custom abbreviations: If old habits die hard, you can create your own custom abbreviations, such as “ical” for the Calendar app. To do this just get the app, bookmark, file, whatever that you want as the selection in LaunchBar. Then click on the item (you’ll see the “open” menu when your mouse hovers over), down towards the bottom of the popup menu you’ll see an option to Assign abbreviation.

  • Creating custom searches: you can set up custom searches on Amazon, Pinboard, Giphy, your own website, etc. All you need to know is how the search term interacts with the website in the URL.

    Here’s how: Bring up LaunchBar and click the Gear icon in the right side of the Bar. Go to Index → Show Index. Then go to Web → Search Templates. Create a new one for the website you want, and simply put an asterisk to serve as LaunchBar’s wild card to know where you want the search result to show up.

    For example, this will launch a search on Amazon:

    http://www.amazon.com/s/&field-keywords=*

    This will launch a search on Giphy:

    http://giphy.com/search/*

    To use your custom search, just bring up LaunchBar and type the initials for the search you want. When you have it selected, hit space and a text box will show up. Then type your search into the field and hit enter. LaunchBar will send you to that URL. Magic.

    LaunchBar also has a ton of pre-built search templates, such as for the iTunes store, Mac App store, Google, Dictionary, Wikipedia, and more.

Additional resources

The Take Control of LaunchBar book has a ton of information, though it’s not yet updated for LaunchBar 6.

And Macworld has several articles with tips and tricks: here, here, and here.

Longstanding Mac Apps

My grandpa was a teacher by trade and a woodworker by passion. My grandmother never did get to park their car in the garage because it was my grandpa’s wood shop.

In my garage are a few tools handed down to me from my Grandpa. Here’s a photo of a few of the more sentimental items I’ve been given: a level and a hand plane.

Tools

The level is least 50 or 60 years old — it has my great grandfather’s initials carved on it. And the plane is probably as old as I am.

I am also a woodworker by passion, but not nearly to the extent my grandpa was. I enjoy building tables and benches on the weekends as a way to give my mind and hands a change of pace from the pixel-based work I do the rest of the week.

The tools of my trade are digital.

A lot has changed in the personal computing industry since 1985. For me, the first computer I ever called my own was a Dell laptop back in 2000. Aside from my Yahoo ID and my AOL AIM account,1 I am not using any of the apps or services that I began using back in 2000.

Sometimes I wonder if the software I’m using today will still be around 20 or 30 years from now. If I put a reminder into OmniFocus to renew my passport in 2024, will that to-do item be preserved until the time it’s due?

For equal parts fun and research, I was digging around to see what Mac apps have been around for the past couple of decades and which are still relevant and under active development.

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

  • Microsoft Word: 1985 (It’s fun to think that the most popular longstanding 3rd-party Mac app might be Microsoft Word, hu?)

  • Microsoft Excel: 1985 (Fun fact: did you know that Excel first shipped on the Mac? It didn’t come to Windows until 1987.)

  • Adobe Illustrator: 1986

  • Fetch: 1989

  • Adobe Photoshop: 1990

  • Accordance Bible: 1990

  • Pro Tools: 1991 (Fun fact: did you know when Pro Tools first launched it cost $6,000, and that “Livin la Vida Loca” was the first number 1 single to be recorded, edited, and mixed entirely in Pro Tools?)

  • BBEdit: 1992 (Fun fact: did you know BBEdit was free when it first came out?)

  • LaunchBar: 1995 (Fun fact: did you know LaunchBar is the original application launcher, and the first app to ever use the Command+Space keyboard hotkey?)

  • Transmit: 1998 (Fun fact: did you know Transmit originally was named “Transit” but there was another app by that name, so Panic changed the name of their app.)

I’m sure there are more. Though I’m not trying to make this list exhaustive, if you know of any apps that should be on this list let me know on Twitter. I’m @shawnblanc.


  1. Which I need for Flickr and AIM respectively. Though iMessage has largely usurped AIM over the past year or so.
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