LaunchBar 4.3: Yet more user-centric goodness

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
August 1st, 2007 • 2:34 pm

TidBITS has a very good article about the latest version of LaunchBar. I am a long-time LaunchBar user and I have written about the application before.

What I like the most about it is that it is user-centric, as opposed to application-centric. And the latest version has some new features that make this even more apparent.

You can now “send” the currently selected text (in any application) to LaunchBar for processing, either as the name of something you want to launch, or as a text string to be processed by something that LaunchBar can launch.

For example, when I encounter a text with a reference to a concept that I want to look up in Wikipedia, for example, I can now just select the text, press-and-hold the shortcut to invoke LaunchBar, and then press Tab followed by my abbreviation for submitting a search request to the Wikipedia web site, which is “wiki.”

This has several advantages over the traditional method, which involved selecting the text, copying it to the Clipboard, invoking LaunchBar, typing “wiki,” pressing the Space bar, and then pasting the Clipboard.

The first obvious advantage is that there are fewer steps. It is also more logical, intuitive. (You effectively “submit” the selection to the search template, in that very order, as opposed to first invoking the search template and then entering the search request.) And best of all, it doesn’t require the use of the Clipboard at all, which can remain free for other purposes.

Of course, as with any abbreviation-based launcher, there is a bit of a learning curve. But I think that anyone interested in software innovation and the drive to make things user-centric rather than application-centric ought to be very grateful, not just that an application such as LaunchBar exits, but that its developer continues to improve it in very significant ways.

Personally, I work in a field (translation) that constantly requires me to look things up. In that respect, this new LaunchBar feature is going to bring very substantial improvements.

Now all I need is to find a way to submit search requests via LaunchBar templates to on-line databases that do not support explicit search request URLs (in my case, TERMIUM and TransSearch). Maybe some GUI scripting might do the trick…

22 Responses to “LaunchBar 4.3: Yet more user-centric goodness”

  1. ssp says:

    Since I switched to the 4.3 version LaunchBar stopped displaying its menu for me. I.e. it just lists the ‘best’ match for whatever I entered and doesn’t show the other options or let me browse folders/albums/addresses. I haven’t consciously changed any options and fiddled with all those which seem menu related but I haven’t gotten the menu back so far :/

    Everything working fine for you menu-wise?

  2. Arden says:

    Now all I need is to find a way to submit search requests via LaunchBar templates to on-line databases that do not support explicit search request URLs (in my case, TERMIUM and TransSearch). Maybe some GUI scripting might do the trick…

    Perhaps something along the lines of a Google search:

    This gets you a URL like this:

  3. Arden says:

    Okay, it got filtered. Something like this: [term]

    Would get you this:

  4. Pierre Igot says:

    ssp: Menu works fine for me. The shortcut brings up the bar, and then as soon as I start typing I get a menu of matches. You might want to communicate with the developer.

    Arden: Sadly, things are rather more complicated. First of all, the databases require login access, and then one of them uses frames (ugh) and the other one only has generic URLs.

  5. » LaunchBar 4.3 says:

    […] LaunchBar 4.3: Yet more user-centric goodness […]

  6. ssp says:

    Looks like I’m not the only one with this problem. Close investigation gave that the menu is actually there but that it pops out of the bar at the bottom and thus is invisible for me as I have the bar at the bottom of the screen.

    In their forums it said that it’ll be fixed with the next update. I guess I’ll just re-locate the bar for the time being.

  7. ssp says:

    Ah that was quick… the update arrived and it’s even called 4.3.2.

    Another question I have: Does LaunchBar use similarly obscene 100MB of RAM on your machine as it does on mine?

  8. Pierre Igot says:

    It uses over 300 MB of “real memory” on my system :).

  9. danridley says:

    Quicksilver has had text processing for a very long time (you can grab text from the clipboard or from the current application, or type text in directly, or feed it in from the Services menu, and there’s a lovely option to pipe in text from the command line). And it also seems more responsive and less memory-hungry than LaunchBar when I’ve compared the two. And it’s free, and will be open source in its Leopard incarnation.

    I look at LaunchBar every now and then, because people I respect keep raving about it, but I’ve yet to see something it can do that QuickSilver can’t do better.

  10. danridley says:

    Re the database with generic URLs: many web forms don’t actually care whether they get their data passed in POST or GET form. (POST is when the browser sends the search terms as separate headers to the server; GET is where they’re appended to the URL like ?search=whatever.) You might be able to look at the search form, see what variable contains the actual query, and then just append it to the URL, GET-style.

    Can’t help you with one that requires login, unless it sets a cookie and keeps you logged in for long enough to be useful.

  11. Pierre Igot says:

    The funny thing is that, the one time I tried QuickSilver out of curiosity (I too respect people raving about their favourite product!), it generated a huge amount of very disruptive hard disk activity (to the point that the rest of my computer was not responsive) and then just got stuck. It was not very reassuring and I quickly reverted to LaunchBar :).

    So there you go. This won’t preclude me from giving QS a spin again one of these days, but really LaunchBar has served me well over the years. Of course, I’d prefer something free. But I need something free that won’t threaten to hose my HD :).

    I will explore your suggestion about the databases. It might be too much to ask, especially for the one which requires frames to work properly and requires you to authenticate again as soon as you change windows, but it’s worth a try.

  12. Pierre Igot says:

    Well, I tried. One of the databases is just a total mess of frames and JavaScript and what not, so there’s no hope there. As for the other one, it looked like it might work, but when I submit a URL with the “query.cgi” part followed by parameters in the “?search=whatever” format, it automatically takes me back to the login page. Interestingly enough, once I confirm the login information (it’s filled in by Safari), it does go through with the search request that I submitted and give me the answer. But I don’t really fancy having to go through the authentication page for each and every request. There must be some mechanism that checks the URL and redirects to the login page for any URL other than the generic one.

  13. danridley says:

    Drat. Another case of Web developers just not allowing for any kind of interoperability, I guess.

    If it’s a big enough problem for you, 1Passwd will autofill and submit username/password forms with one keystroke (Cmd-backslash), which might lower the pain of logging in enough to make the LaunchBar search method convenient to use. But it’s fairly expensive for a password manager ($30), and even more so if you’d only need/use it for one site.

  14. ssp says:

    @danridley: LaunchBar : Quicksilver :: Sane Person : Geek

    That’s all there is to it ;)

    I’m pretty sure you can find a correlation between geekiness and Quicksilver usage. And while you’re at it I’m pretty sure that’s correlated to Growl usage as well.

  15. danridley says:

    ssp: What about piping something from a command line into Quicksilver, then running a command on it that outputs to Growl? I’ve done that, and it scares me a little. :-)

    But I’m still not ready to grant you this one. QS’s more esoteric options seem to me like the Unix underpinnings of Mac OS X; most people don’t use them, but it’s nice to know they’ll be there if you need them.

    I haven’t had any trouble with my non-geek friends instantly understanding the core app-launching functionality.

  16. ssp says:

    @danridley: you just proved my point, didin’t you?

  17. Pierre Igot says:

    Dan: I am aware of 1Passwd, but it really is overkill for me. I already own WebConfidential and don’t really want to spend $30 on another password manager, especially since it would not really eliminate the extra step of having to go through the login page. In fact, I don’t think it would make any difference. The browser would still have to load the page, and once it’s loaded, Safari automatically fills in the name and password, so I just have to press Return anyway.

    No, I think I’ll just have to live with the databases as they are.

  18. danridley says:

    ssp: No, I don’t think I have. But I am still curious. What is it that LB does better than QS for the less geeky crowd?

    (I’m not disparaging LB, which seems like a great product, and which was, of course, the first of its kind. I just haven’t figured out what advantage it has now, and I want to understand.)

  19. ssp says:

    @danridley: First and formost the correlation I suggest is founded on observation of people. Non-geeky ones simply seem to LaunchBar while more geeky one dig Quicksilver.

    Because of its many additional options and features it’s easy to see how Quicksilver is popular with the geek crowd. I think the main appeal of LaunchBar is that it looks so tiny, simple and non-threatening.

  20. Pierre Igot says:

    Update for dan: Believe it or not, one of the 2 databases that I was having problems with has just decided to completely revamp their UI for accessibility purposes and yes, they have got rid of the frames, and yes, they now support URLs with queries. So that means that I can now use LaunchBar’s new “send” feature to send the currently selected text to that database for lookup via a LaunchBar search template. Yey!

    One by one, the pieces of the puzzle fall into place. (Still have one non-standard database that constantly requires authentication, but the other one is the one that I use most often.

  21. danridley says:

    Sweet! It’s always nice when an upgrade actually includes real benefits, isn’t it?

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