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Take Control of LaunchBar
Sep 24, 2014

Take Control of LaunchBar

Let LaunchBar’s superpowers save you from Mac drudgery!

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, author Kirk McElhearn explains LaunchBar in the context of its six superpowers — key LaunchBar techniques that no Mac user should be without. (Don’t miss how LaunchBar comes to the rescue of ordinary citizens in our “Joy of Take” comic.)

  1. 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).

  2. Browsing. Sometimes you don’t know what you want until you see it. You can browse folders, recent documents for an app, clipboard history, snippets, tags, and more.

  3. 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.

  4. Send To. Want to open a PDF in PDFpen rather than Preview? Attach a document to a new email message? Tag a file? Skype a contact? You can send anything on LaunchBar’s bar to another app, folder, action, or service.

  5. Instant Send. 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, calculate a result, look up in Dictionary, and more.

  6. Staging. New in LaunchBar 6.1, staging lets you select and work on multiple items at once in LaunchBar, even if they are not located in the same LaunchBar results list. Once selected, you could select a group of files and then move them all to a different folder, tag each one, or send them as email attachments.

Don’t worry about remembering all this — a one-page cheat sheet will jog your memory until LaunchBar has worked its way into your fingertips.

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.

More Info

Consider two examples:

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 iBooks in response to seeing the letters IB, and pressing Return opens iBooks. (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 apply abbreviation search to other tasks and begin to unleash more superpowers. One example is to employ superpower #5, Instant Send, to add a book to iBooks: select an EPUB file (like Take Control of LaunchBar!) in the Finder, hold down the key you use to invoke LaunchBar for an extra second to select the file on the bar, type IB to select iBooks, and press Return to send the EPUB file to iBooks.

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 and reminders, skipping to the next track in iTunes, running Terminal commands, looking up terms in Wikipedia, counting the characters in selected text, typing emoji, 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!

Some of our moments of LaunchBar zen:

“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!” –Michael E. Cohen

“My favorite aspect of LaunchBar is anything related to Contacts. I like finding someone in LaunchBar and immediately starting an email or sending an iMessage.” –Lauri Reinhardt

What's New

What’s New in Version 1.1

To create version 1.1 of Take Control of LaunchBar, I’ve reworked the entire manuscript—and the screenshots—for LaunchBar 6.1. (LaunchBar 6 was released in June 2014; LaunchBar 6.1 was released in late August, and 6.1.1 was released just as this book was going to press.)

I’ve added topics about new features, including LaunchBar’s sixth superpower, Staging, which Objective Development added to LaunchBar 6.1. And, due to Take Control’s collaboration with Objective Development, the superpowers described in this book are now treated as superpowers in LaunchBar; see How Do You Use LaunchBar?.

A new chapter, What’s New in LaunchBar 6, helps you efficiently explore the new features.

Because LaunchBar 6 requires OS X 10.9 Mavericks or 10.10 Yosemite, I’ve removed a few references to older Mac apps that no longer work in Mavericks and later, such as Address Book.

Help with LaunchBar 5

For help with LaunchBar 5, you can refer to the previous version of this ebook—there’s no extra charge. Follow the “access extras” link in Ebook Extras, and look in the blog.


Can I Get a Trial Version of LaunchBar?

Yes! Visit the LaunchBar Web page, and look for a download link.

What versions of Mac OS X do I need in order to run LaunchBar?

LaunchBar 5.5 runs on the Mac in 10.6 Snow Leopard, 10.7 Leopard, and 10.8 Mountain Lion. LaunchBar 6 runs on 10.9 Mavericks and 10.10 Yosemite.

Which version of LaunchBar does this book cover?

When you download this ebook, you’ll get a version that covers LaunchBar 6. However, if you look at the end of the Introduction, you’ll find information about how you can download a free copy of a previous version that describes LaunchBar 5.

Reader Raves

“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

Update Plans

September 25, 2014 - We love LaunchBar, and do expect to update this book again at some point in the future, though we have no particular plan for when. Ideally, now that we’ve updated the book for LaunchBar 6 (6.1.1, specifically), it will remain more or less current for a while.

Posted by Tonya Engst

  1. Kirk Dishes LaunchBar 6 Tips on MacVoices

    For a quick (well, 42-minute) and informative overview of the new features in LaunchBar 6, including details about its new sixth “super power,” click the link to watch the interview that Kirk gave to Chuck Joiner on MacVoices. Or just watch it here.

    Posted by Tonya Engst (Permalink)

  2. On Learning LaunchBar - Don’t Reach for the Mouse!

    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.

    Posted by Tonya Engst (Permalink)

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 publications. He reviews classical CDs for MusicWeb and audiobooks for Audiofile, and he is a translator from French to English.