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Take Control of LaunchBar
Let LaunchBar’s superpowers save you from a lifetime of Mac drudgery!
Join Mac expert Kirk McElhearn, and learn how to use LaunchBar, from Objective Development, to carry out nearly any Mac task more efficiently. To help you develop a mental map of all that LaunchBar can do, Kirk explains LaunchBar in the context of its five superpowers — key LaunchBar techniques that no Mac user should be without (and see how LaunchBar comes to the rescue of ordinary citizens in our “Joy of Take” comic in the Contents & Intro tab below—scroll down!).
Abbreviation search. The primary way you select things in LaunchBar is by typing a few letters associated with the item you want to find. LaunchBar is smart (so the abbreviation doesn’t have to be obvious) and learns from what you type (in case it guessed wrong the first time).
Browsing. Sometimes you don’t know what you want until you see it. Abbreviation search won’t help there, but you can browse folders, recent documents for an app, clipboard history, snippets, and more.
Sub-search. Too many results in a list to browse? Try a sub-search, which is an abbreviation search limited to a list of search results.
Send To. Want to open a PDF in PDFpen rather than Preview? Or attach a document to a new email message? You can send anything on LaunchBar’s bar to another application, folder, action, or service.
Instant Send. For those who want to save the most time, Instant Send is the fastest way to put a selected file or bit of text on the bar, ready to open in another app, move to a folder, send to a Google search, look up in Dictionary, and more.
Don’t worry about remembering all this — a one-page cheat sheet in the book will jog your memory until LaunchBar has worked its way into your fingertips.
Example 1: The most beloved LaunchBar function is to access apps quickly — especially apps that you don’t keep in the Dock. Just invoke LaunchBar (with a keyboard shortcut of your choosing), type a quick abbreviation — whatever seems natural to you — and press Return. (Or, take the express route with LaunchBar’s handy Instant Open.) In the image below, LaunchBar has found iPhoto in response to seeing the letters IP, and pressing Return opens iPhoto. (LaunchBar doesn’t require predefined abbreviations; instead, it adapts to you!) This method of accessing an app uses the Abbreviation Search, superpower #1.
Example 2: Once you’ve become accustomed to the ease of accessing any app, you can start applying abbreviation search to other tasks and begin to unleash LaunchBar’s other four superpowers. One example is to employ superpower #5, Instant Send, to file photos: select a photo’s file icon in the Finder, hold down the key you use to invoke LaunchBar for an extra second to put the file on the bar, select the Add to iPhoto action, and press Return to send the photo to iPhoto.
We could go on forever with our favorite examples: pasting the third item back from the clipboard history, moving a file into a deeply nested folder, creating calendar events, skipping to the next track in iTunes, running Terminal commands, looking up terms in Wikipedia, counting the characters in selected text, tweeting a quote from an article, finding your uncle’s phone number, and so on.
To learn how do all this, and more, read the ebook!
This ebook was created in collaboration with Objective Development, the company that makes LaunchBar. Deep thanks goes to Christian, Johannes, Manfred, and Norbert, who went the extra mile and helped us learn that LaunchBar does more than we’d imagined, despite years of daily use.
“Now that I understand sub-searching, I can open ancient items from my Web history with just a few keystrokes!” –Tonya Engst
“It’s impossible to limit myself to a single moment of LaunchBar zen, but I’m now searching via custom TidBITS and Google Browse by Name search templates, opening specific Take Control ebooks from my Take Control Library folder with sub-searches, and using Instant Send to open plain text URLs from Google Docs in my Web browser.” –Adam Engst
“I periodically have to share screens with my old Snow Leopard iMac (to access my PowerPC copy of FileMaker). Today, instead of clicking the Snow Leopard iMac in a Finder window sidebar and clicking the Share Screen button, I invoked LaunchBar, typed SCRE, and saw the Screen Sharing app from the System’s CoreServices folder; hitting Return opened the app and connected me. Very convenient!” –Michael E. Cohen
“My favorite aspect of LaunchBar is anything related to Contacts. I like being able to find someone in LaunchBar and immediately start an email or send an iMessage.” –Lauri Reinhardt
“LaunchBar is an integral part of my Mac workflow, for one main reason: I can do 1,001 things from the keyboard. Almost anything I can do in the Finder, I can do with LaunchBar, and not have to use my trackpad.” –Kirk McElhearn
iPad & Kindle
About the Author
Kirk McElhearn is a freelance writer, specializing in Macs, iPods, iTunes, digital music, and more. In addition to having written or co-written a dozen books, he is a Senior Contributor to Macworld magazine and he contributes to several other Web sites and magazines. He reviews classical CDs for MusicWeb and audiobooks for Audiofile, and he is a translator from French to English.
Table of Contents
Read Me First
LaunchBar 5 streamlines the way you access apps, open files, browse your file system, use the Web, copy and paste, insert text, access data from certain applications, run calculations, control iTunes, handle file management, control your Mac, and more. This book explains LaunchBar’s five superpowers and teaches you how to work faster and more efficiently on your Mac. It was written by Kirk McElhearn, edited by Tonya Engst, and published by TidBITS Publishing Inc.
I’ve been using LaunchBar for nearly as long as it has been around on the Mac. It’s the first utility that I install on every new Mac; with LaunchBar installed, I can get on with everything else I need to do.
In my 2010 Macworld review, LaunchBar 5 became one of the few apps to which I’ve given the highest rating (5 mice). Previous Macworld reviewers (including this book’s technical editor in 2005) have also given LaunchBar a 5-mouse rating. Macworld editor Jason Snell said, in his 5-mouse review of LaunchBar 4 in 2007, “When I use a Mac that doesn’t have LaunchBar running, I simply feel naked.” And Take Control publisher Adam Engst has happily admitted to being “utterly addicted” to LaunchBar since 2003, saying “LaunchBar has worked its way into my neurons, and I’m all the more productive because of it.”
What’s the big deal? Why does this software elicit such fervent praise? LaunchBar is all about saving time by keeping your hands on your keyboard, as you can see in the following scenarios.
Launching an application:
Without LaunchBar: You switch to the Finder, click Applications in the Finder window sidebar, and scroll to find the app’s icon. You then double-click that icon. You could, of course, have the icon in the Dock and do this with a single click, but if it’s an app you use infrequently, you might not want to clutter the Dock with it.
With LaunchBar: You press Command-Space, type a few letters from the app’s name, and press Return.
Opening a file that you’ve edited recently in Pages:
Without LaunchBar: You click the Pages icon in the Dock, and then navigate to the document from the Open dialog or choose File > Open Recent and select a file. Or you browse in the Finder for the document, potentially clicking through several folders before you find the icon and double-click it.
With LaunchBar: You type PAG, and Pages appears in the bar. You press the right-arrow key to see recently used documents, arrow down to find the one you want, and then press Return to open it.
In both cases, LaunchBar provides quick access to applications and files. What’s more, LaunchBar learns from the abbreviations you type, so rather than forcing you to use its conventions, it adopts yours. The more you use LaunchBar, the better it understands what you want.
If this was all LaunchBar could do, it would be a useful, yet limited application. The app’s name tells you that it can launch items, but LaunchBar does much more, as its slogan suggests: “1000+ Features, 1 Interface.” With the help of LaunchBar’s slim bar, you can attach files to new email messages, search your contacts, keep and access a clipboard history, insert snippets of canned text, run Terminal commands, and more — all from just the keyboard.
And LaunchBar has superpowers. It won’t give you the power to cloud men’s minds or climb the sides of buildings, but it will turn you into a Mac superhero. Anyone can master LaunchBar’s basic uses: launching applications, opening files, searching the Web, and more. But this book will teach you the five LaunchBar superpowers so you can work far more efficiently on your Mac.
LaunchBar was developed by Norbert Heger for NEXTSTEP back in 1995, as a series of scripts to open applications or documents. The basic idea — typing an abbreviation to open an item, with LaunchBar learning from the abbreviations typed — was the linchpin of LaunchBar from the beginning. Objective Development released a public version of the program in 1996, and ported it to Mac OS X in 2001.
For more about LaunchBar’s history and world view, read the 2003 interview with Norbert Heger, on the O’Reilly Web site.
This book has a normal table of contents, so you can scan that to see what topics are covered and jump to any topic from there. However, you may find it helpful to approach the ebook not linearly, but based on your situation. Here are some ideas for avenues of approach to the content in this book.
Download the cheat sheet. Put it on another device or in another window while you read this book, or print it out. You can also find the Cheat Sheet at the back of this book.
Start with Meet LaunchBar. This chapter introduces the LaunchBar interface and the five superpowers, and walks you through a few preferences that you should configure right away.
Get initiated with superpower #1 in Abbreviation Search.
Next, see common uses of LaunchBar as you learn the remaining four superpowers: Browsing, Sub-search, Send To, and Instant Send.
Continue with the rest of the book, reading topics that interest you. Once you’ve gained some experience, read the last chapter, Customize LaunchBar, to fine-tune LaunchBar.
Read about superpowers #4 and #5 in Send To and Instant Send.
Find out how to Use Actions to control your Mac, and how to Use Services to access the features of one app from within a different app.
Learn how to copy and paste multiple items in Save Time with Clipboard History.
Absolutely read Customize LaunchBar. Make sure the preferences are right way for you, and then Control the Index to ensure that you can find what you want in LaunchBar.
Go further with Do Amazing Things with Files & Folders. Even experienced LaunchBar users may not know all the ways they can manipulate and act on items.
Consider learning how to do these tasks from the bar: Search the Internet, Control iTunes, Work with Contacts, Calendars & Reminders and Calculate Quickly. Consult the table of contents or the list at the end of 1,000 Things to Do for more that you can do.
Type Less with Snippets covers the new text-insertion feature.
LaunchBar has added a number of actions that work with Apple’s Automator, which you can use to send the results of workflows to LaunchBar. Use LaunchBar-Automator Workflows discusses this.
LaunchBar 5.5 has many small enhancements that I don’t call out in the text, but which make the program more powerful than ever. You can review them in Objective Development’s Release Notes.
Yes! Visit the LaunchBar Web page, and look for a download link.
At the moment, it is July of 2013 and LaunchBar is at version 5.5. LaunchBar 5.5 runs on the Mac in 10.6 Snow Leopard, 10.7 Leopard, and 10.8 Mountain Lion.
There are lots of great ways to read our ebooks on these devices. For more details, please read our latest Device Advice.
Feel free to ask us if you have a question about this title!
How could we not publish such kind words? If you'd like to send us your comments (good or bad, though we hope they're all good), just click the Feedback link on the cover of your copy of the ebook. Be sure to let us know if we can publish your comment. Thanks!
"Wow—I have been using LaunchBar for years and consider(ed) myself to be very proficient with it. But I have learned a ton of new stuff, such as copy-merging and how to send text to a Service. Now, when I come across AppleScript code in a blog post, I select the code, instant-send the selection to LaunchBar, and enter my new abbreviation to call the Make New AppleScript service. I have purchased several Take Control books, but in terms of unlocking new features that I will use every day, this is the best one yet. Thanks." —Rob Olian
July 17, 2013 --
Chuck Joiner of MacVoices interviews Kirk McElhearn about his latest Take Control book, which covers one of the favorite apps of the Take Control staff: LaunchBar from Objective Development. Kirk, who appears on the video as himself instead of in the guise of his cartoon avatar (see the book; this will all make sense then), briefs Chuck about LaunchBar's "five superpowers,” those basic LaunchBar techniques that unlock the surprisingly deep capabilities of this unassuming app. He then gives Chuck a whirlwind tour of many of those capabilities, blowing everyone's mind.
—Michael E. Cohen
July 12, 2013 --
If you've taken the step of buying "Take Control of LaunchBar" you are well on your way to learning the utility. But, reading can take you only so far. Here's how I became more competent with LaunchBar.
I typically work in a single application window until I need to pull some other app or document into the fray. To switch apps, I would use LaunchBar or the Dock. Or, I would switch out to the Finder and hunt around for a file that I need to work with. For me, the key realization was that whenever I reach for the mouse in order to access some other app or file, I should first try LaunchBar. At first, my attempts with LaunchBar were often awkward. That's because I've had to tweak my index several times to get what I want (near the end of the ebook, there's a long topic about the index), and to add a few custom search templates.
I could tell that I was improving when I started invoking LaunchBar instead of mousing and holding down my LaunchBar keyboard shortcut to invoke Instant Send, often with text selected. I also started pressing Tab a lot in LaunchBar to start a Send To operation. I'm still getting used to Instant Open — that's when you know your abbreviation search is going to work, so you hold down on the last letter of the search until your item opens, without your ever having to press Return.
I highly recommend the Cheat Sheet, which is very nearly at the end of the ebook. Get it on a secondary screen near where you work, or print it out. That way you can refer to it as you go. And, if you've missed the comic, give it a look.
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