August 27th, 2003 • 5:12 pm
The autocompleting feature of web browsers such as Safari or Explorer are a good idea in theory. Type the first few letters of a URL, and the browser scans its long history of existing URLs that you’ve used and lists a number of possible matches. Then you use the up and down cursor keys to select the exact match you want and away you go.
The problem with this feature is that it’s pretty dumb. If you browser a site such as Amazon.com, for example, as soon as you get to the site you typically get very long URLs starting with something like: “http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos…”. Each time you click on a link, you are taken to yet another page with a very long URL, etc.
And the AutoComplete feature records all these URLs indiscriminately in its history. Then the next day you decide you want to go back to Amazon.com and start typing “amazon…”, and Safari gives you a endless list of all kinds of URLs beginning with “http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos…” that you have absolutely no use for. You just want to go back to the store’s home page! But the exact URL “http://www.amazon.com” is just one of many, and it’s nearly impossible locate it in the list. And if you try to get out of the AutoComplete feature, typically Safari will still leave you with one of those ultra-long URLs, instead of the default “http://www.amazon.com”. Pretty useless, then.
There are, of course, workarounds. You can add Amazon.com to your toolbar bookmarks and use the mouse instead. But if you’re used to using your keyboard, you’re out of luck… unless you use LaunchBar.
Unlike Safari’s AutoComplete feature, LaunchBar does “autocomplete” what you are typing, but it does so based on a existing list of bookmarks, rather than your browsing history. You just need to define a keyboard shortcut to invoke LaunchBar from anywhere (I use command-escape) and then you start typing “amazon” and LaunchBar lists the possible matches within your list of bookmarks. Use the up and down cursor keys to select the exact match you want, and press Return. And you’re done.
In other words, LaunchBar works exactly like Safari’s AutoComplete feature, except that you need to use a keyboard shortcut to invoke it first. But on the other hand, it’s available from anywhere, not just from within Safari. So say you are reading an email where someone mentions that something is available at Amazon. While you are reading the email, press cmd-Esc (or your own keyboard shortcut) and use LaunchBar’s autocompleting scheme, and you’re done.
I’m not saying that Safari’s AutoComplete is completely useless, of course. Autocompleting based on your browsing history does have it uses. But in many cases the mechanism is just too crude to be really useful. LaunchBar beautiful complements it — and that’s just one of its many benefits.