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Quicksilver basics: shake hands with your preferences

David Chartier

Yesterday Quicksilver started acting a little goofy, and I wasn't surprised; I have just about every beta and extra turned on as I just can't stop exploring all the neat stuff this app can do. During my troubleshooting efforts I resorted to the simple trick of quitting Quicksilver and simply moving its preference file (located with other preference files in ~/Library/Preferences) to my desktop, forcing Quicksilver to re-create a clean new preference file. This fixed the issue, but it also forced me to dive back into my preferences to tweak, toggle and change some of the options I use to make Quicksilver do what I want.

That experience made me realize, however, that part of the Quicksilver learning curve for new users really is to get to know its preferences, since they act as a handy springboard into what Quicksilver is capable of. A lot of fantastic tutorials, like those at 43 Folders and Blacktree's own site (the makers of Quicksilver), sometimes assume that you already know what you're doing with Quicksilver. Another complication is that the actions (and sometimes plugins) used in these tutorials are not installed or enabled by default. Some of the email actions - for example the "send item immediately" action that allows you to email an item to someone without ever touching a mail composition window - are oddly not enabled in a default Quicksilver installation, which means a user has to open Quicksilver's preferences (once invoked, a quick cmd - , does the trick) and dig around in the Actions section to find what they need. Ultimately, I figure there are three key areas of Quicksilver's preferences that might help new or aspiring but confused users get their feet grounded: Catalog, Actions and Plugins, and here is a brief explanation of each:

  • Catalog - this is a pretty straight-forward list of everything Quicksilver keeps track of on your Mac. Looking through the Catalog and the Actions preference panel should help you get a grasp of what items Quicksilver can find and manipulate, and then how you can manipulate them.
  • Actions - this is a list of the defining ability that separates Quicksilver from mere seek-and-find applications. Actions allow you to do something with the item you have found, far above and beyond simply opening it. Actions are (loosely) categorized to help you find your way around: Address Book actions allow you to do more with your contacts, Text actions (an optional plugin) allow you to do things like looking up word definitions right from within Quicksilver and appending text to a file buried somewhere, etc. If this panel doesn't excite your inner productivity geek, you should consider consulting your physician.
  • Plugins - Quicksilver is highly, highly plugin-able, which is where even more of its beauty radiates from. Plugins for Backpack, alternative browser bookmarks, the Mac OS X Keychain, NetNewsWire headlines, a multiple-item clipboard, hundreds of web search engines and much, much more all have your name written on them. Go wild.
Quicksilver is one of the few apps that is so different and powerful that the classic "just open and play with it" phrase might not be enough for some users to grasp what's going on. If you are one of these users, I hope this brief explanation will help you to take your first step into the wide, wonderful universe of Quicksilver.

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