LaunchBar and Microsoft Word: ‘Instant Send’ feature not supported

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh, Microsoft
August 24th, 2007 • 10:02 am

The other day, I wrote about the recent revamp of TERMIUM, one of the on-line terminology databases that I use most often in my work. The good news was that the new interface now allowed me to use LaunchBar to “instant send” a string of text from my current application (text editor, word processor) to TERMIUM in order to look it up in the database.

In other words, when I encounter a term that I need to look up in a text document, I can just select it, press and hold the LaunchBar shortcut, then select my TERMIUM search template in LaunchBar and press Return. This automatically opens a new window in Safari with the result of the search for this term in the TERMIUM database.

It’s great, because I can do it all with the keyboard, and it’s user-centric as opposed to application-centric, which is more intuitive. (I don’t need to first switch to Safari, load the TERMIUM search form and then submit the term.)

This is the good news.

The bad news is that, of course, there had to be one application that would ruin the whole thing, and that application is—of course—Microsoft Word.

When you are in a Word document and you select a term and try to “instant send” it to LaunchBar by pressing and holding the LaunchBar shortcut, instead of sending the text to LaunchBar, Word actually… replaces the selected text by a manual page break.

I first thought that maybe there was something problematic with the particular shortcut that I use for invoking LaunchBar (command-Escape), so I switched to another shortcut in LaunchBar’s preferences, but I still got the same result.

Since I couldn’t find any mention of this anywhere, I contacted the ObDev tech support and their reply gave me the explanation.

See, what the LaunchBar documentation doesn’t indicate very clearly is that this “Instant Send” feature actually uses Mac OS X’s Services architecture.

And as we all know too well, after all these years, Microsoft’s applications still do not support Mac OS X’s Services architecture. So the feature doesn’t work with Microsoft Word. The other text editors and word processors that I use in my daily work all support it, but not Microsoft Word.

It’s nothing too surprising, but it’s disappointing nonetheless. Microsoft and Adobe are the two major Mac software developers that constantly refuse to embrace or even support some core Mac OS X features. I realize that Mac OS X’s Services has not exactly been a runaway success and is probably not used by the majority of Mac OS X users out there, but it is still frustrating that Microsoft and Adobe developers apparently do not really feel that they have to make any effort to support this feature. It should be up to the user to decide whether he wants to use the feature or not.

If Microsoft’s MacBU developers really “loved” the Mac as they regular say that they do, you’d think that they would make more of an effort to show their love by also embracing some of these less flashy, yet interesting and occasionally useful features in Mac OS X, such as the Services architecture. Maybe not in the first Mac OS X version of their product, but, you know, eventually.

Anyway, the bottom-line is that I cannot use LaunchBar’s “Instant Send” in Word, which is one of the applications that I use most frequently in my work. It’ll give me yet another reason to try and use Pages as much as possible, of course, but there will always be situations where I have to use Word, and in those situations I will be forced to use a different approach.

The good news is that there is a slightly different approach that is not much more complicated and is actually supported in all Mac OS X applications, whether they support Mac OS X’s Services or not. It involves using the Clipboard instead of LaunchBar’s “Instant Send” feature.

When I encounter a term that I want to look up in TERMIUM in a Word document, I can just select it, press command-C to copy it to the Clipboard, then press the regular LaunchBar shortcut to invoke the LaunchBar menu, select the TERMIUM search template in that menu, press the Space bar to activate the template, then press command-V to paste the copied term and press Return. As with “Instant Send,” this automatically opens a new window in Safari with the result of the search for this term in the TERMIUM database

It’s not as intuitive as the “Instant Send” approach, but it can still be all done with the keyboard. And one advantage of this method is that, if the last thing I used in LaunchBar was the TERMIUM search template, then it will be the default option the next time I invoke it again—whereas with “Instant Send,” I have to select the TERMIUM search template manually every time.

So it’s not actually all that bad. But it forces me to use the Clipboard, whereas the “Instant Send” feature bypasses the Clipboard altogether.

Since I really loathe having to constantly make mental adjustments whenever I switch from Microsoft Word to other applications, I will probably end up using this approach all the time, with other applications as well as with Microsoft Word, even if those other applications support Mac OS X’s Services architecture and LaunchBar’s “Instant Send” feature.

There is the ideal world of what computers should allow you to do. And then there is the real world of what applications actually let you do, which is never ideal and always forces you to compromise. That’s one of the most frustrating aspects of real-world computing. You can see the potential for efficiency, consistency, and predictability, but you also know that this potential is never going to be fully realized, because of the “politics” of software development, because of the reality of near-monopoly situations that stifle innovation and lower quality standards.

2 Responses to “LaunchBar and Microsoft Word: ‘Instant Send’ feature not supported”

  1. Paul Ingraham says:

    You make an important point about making “mental adjustments” when you switch between applications. Due to the lack of a serious word processor for Mac OS X, I have been living in a limbo between different writing tools, regularly switching from BBEdit to Pages to Nisus Writer Express, depending on my needs of the moment and the strengths of the application. There are some things that Pages is just so good at, for instance, that I simply can’t imagine using NWX for those tasks… and still vice versa (even with Pages ’08, which still cannot compete with NWX’s awesome draft mode).

    Yet even with these three apps, which are all arguably well-behaved Mac apps, I nearly go out of my mind some days trying to remember what I can do and where I can do it. There are countless examples of functionality that “should” exist in all three but only work in 1 or 2 of them! This accounts for a major chunk of my daily annoyances. I can’t imagine how much worse it would be if I had to through MS Word into the mix!

    Thank God for Spell Catcher, though. That application smooths out a lot of this problem.

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    Yes, SCX is an example of things done right, simply because it is not really an “application” in the traditional sense. (You don’t have to switch to SCX first in order to be able to use it, and it works in almost all Mac OS X applications, with the exact same behaviours or different behaviours, dependings on your chosen prefs.)

    The fundamental problem here is that Mac OS X is still an application-centric system. As long as we are stuck with the application-centric model, we will continue to have to deal multiple tools that do the same things differently and do different things that only they can do.

    In an ideal world, the user would be able to pick and choose the tools he/she needs and assemble his own work environment, which wouldn’t even be an application, but simply a document-centric interface where consistency and interoperability reign supreme.

    Will we ever get even close to this ideal? I guess there are numerous challenges, both technical and “political.” You cannot just radically alter the approach and expected everyone else to follow suit… Oh wait, maybe you can! It’s what happened in 1984, isn’t it? Sure, it was far from a smooth ride, but eventually the Macintosh model did become the universal model, and Mac users were fortunate enough to experience it and benefit from it before everyone else.

    I really do wish that Apple could be really bold again and effect another “paradigm shift.” Instead, we get a 3D Dock and curved stacks. :-/

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