Quicksilver and ActiveWords

Liz Lawley writes about an Apple-specific software, Quicksilver, describing how i used quicksilver today.  On reading this, my immediate thought was of a well-used app on the Windows side of the world, ActiveWords.  They both start with a keyboard shortcut of some sort, but from her descriptions their behavior sounds different.  I can't say for sure, but it sounds as if Quicksilver is more of a system that knows what commands, files and browser shortcuts are available in any context on the Mac and gives you easy access to them.  ActiveWords, on the other hand, needs to be told every shortcut that you think is valuable.  (It has some watcher tools that suggest frequently-used applications and documents.) 

In the extended entry, I've gone through Liz' examples and contrasted how the same thing might work in ActiveWords, in most cases I think AW is a bit faster, but it assumes I've done the setup.  The whole point of AW is to speed up the things I do over and over.  Oh, I don't have a financial interest in either package, and I paid for my copy of ActiveWords.  Buzz Bruggeman is ActiveWords' advocate, if you hadn't met him yet.

The numbered entries are Liz' original description of her behavior in Quicksilver, and I have given an AW take on the activity below each.  Further below, I have listed my most-frequently used parts of ActiveWords.

  1. After turning on the computer, I wanted to go to the comments moderation page for my blog. I’ve got a bookmark in Firefox called “comments,” so I invoked Quicksilver and typed “comm”. Quicksilver immediately suggested the comments bookmark, so I pressed enter. Firefox launched and went right to the page I wanted.
    • With AW, I would have a word that takes me directly to my comment moderation page.  And I can enter that word either in by calling up AW via the keyboard, or I can simply type the word and hit the "AW key" which interprets what I typed and fires the appropriate word.
  2. I wanted to listen to Sarah McLachlan’s Afterglow album while I worked, so I invoked Quicksilver and typed Browse. I arrowed down to “Browse Albums,” then used right arrow to see my list of albums. I typed “Afterglow” and pressed enter. iTunes launched and started playing the album.
    • I have several "browse" words that take me to frequently-used folders.  In this case, I have "my music" which opens the browser directly to my music folder.  From there, I could find the Detroit Cobra's and play away.
    • If I had a really favorite album or track, I could set up an AW that would start that track immediately.
  3. Today’s grading day. I use an excel spreadsheet to store student names and URLs, and to record marks for individual components of the assignment. I invoked QS and typed “409-042 grades” to find the spreadsheet (409 is the course number, 042 is the current quarter; I use this naming convention for all course-related materials), and enter to launch it in Excel.
    • Fire off the "409-042 grades" word, which would open the file in question immediately in its correct application.
  4. My dock icon for Adium started jumping to tell me I had an incoming IM. I invoked QS and typed “ad” to bring up Adium, and pressed enter to make it the active application.
    • Fire the "ad" word and get the application directly.  No second 'enter' to get the application.  (Of course, if I have more than "ad" word, then AW would ask me which one I meant.)
  5. While grading, I had to send out an advising alert for a student who hadn’t turned in an assignment. I have a bookmark for the Advising system, so I invoked QS and typed “advising” to find the bookmark and then enter to open it in Firefox.
    • Fire the "advising" word and launch that page in the browser directly.  More advanced users might have a second word, "advising alert" that requests the ID for the student and then does the repeated actions of setting up the alert. 
  6. I noticed that there was still a PDF article that I’d downloaded yesterday sitting on my desktop. I invoked QS, typed the name of the document (well, the first few characters, actually). Then I pressed tab and typed “move”, and tab again and typed the name of the research folder that the document belonged in. Pressing enter resulted in the document disappearing from the desktop and magically being relocated to the appropriate folder.
    • This one isn't a strength of AW directly.  I'd have to have a word for the explorer on my desktop or something.  AW's strengths are either on commonly-used websites & files or on repeated actions.
  7. I remembered that I’d promised a family member that I’d get some information from a mutual friend, so I invoked QS and typed the friend’s name. When her entry from my address book appeared, I pressed tab and typed “mail” to find the “Email” command. I selected it with the down arrow, then pressed enter. Mail became the active application (it was already open in the background; otherwise it would have been launched), opened a new message addressed to the friend.
    • There are extensions for AW that work with Outlook and with the Palm Desktop.  With these, I can create a word for every person in my contact list (first name, last name, first + last name, and company.)  For Liz, I might type "liz" and get two or three words that match, including her.  From there, I could fire off a message via Outlook. 
    • Even better for people I contact frequently: I have set up "words" like "msg marci" or "msg family" that open a message already addressed to my wife or to a list of several family member, respectively.
    • ActiveWords isn't context sensitive, like what Liz describes in this entry.  On the other hand, I could easily setup an AW that would create a message for the currently-active contact.  I'm just not sure what would happen if I didn't have a contact active when firing the word.

Looking at my AW "productivity center" (it keeps track of which words you use to show how much help it is), I can tell you a little about my usage of the tool.  Based on a quick look, I use it a lot for browser activities and text substitutions.

  • By far, my most used "word" is the ActiveWords default.  This is the action ActiveWords takes when it doesn't recognize the word you've entered.  I have this set to run a Google query.  I don't have to be anywhere near my browser, but it does all this for me.  I'd love to see a slightly different keystroke that would let me hit "I feel lucky" when I know the first hit will give me what I want.  I also fire the default when I occasionally type the wrong word.
  • The next word is "msg," which is my queue to start a new, blank email message in Outlook.
  • "blog" navigates me to my blog in the default browser.
  • "sig" is a text substitution for my standard signature.  I've created several signatures, depending on the circumstances.  And based on a conversation with Terry Frazier, I've set up a couple signature words to not only add text but also tell Outlook to use a different sending account.  All with one word.
  • "bm" is my word for "blog maintenance" that brings me to my control panel.  I also have words for common locations within my control panel, such as the blacklist or for a new entry.
  • "sltg" opens Smart List To Go, the desktop app for a Palm tool I use frequently.
  • "ftp" opens my FTP client.  I also have a "ftp jv" script that opens the client and connects to my ftp server - all with one "word." 
  • "add web" is a script that grabs the current URL, starts the AW "add web page" wizard to create a new word for the current URL.  This shortens my number of steps for creating new ActiveWords, and makes the experience with AW much nicer.  I have a similar one for documents, email messages, browser directories, and even one that builds a basic login script for me.

Interesting.  The ActiveWords user forums have tons of good help and suggestions, if you really want more.

7 Comment(s)

zubari said:

I think you've missed two important things about the way Quicksilver works.

Firstly, Quicksilver searches its catalog of names (automatically generated) based on the keys that you have entered. This means that you don't need to type the entire name of the file or application you want to access. Just the first few letters of the word are sufficient. In fact, you don't even need to do that - I could just as easily type "phot" and Quicksilver would locate "iPhoto" as the closest match, or I could type "Newf" and get "Newsfire".

Although Quicksilver does not directly index everything, it can also look inside of many things that it indexes. This means that you can access the contents of any folder straight away and, depending on the plugins installed, important data within various applications.

This leads into the second thing you've missed (probably due to lack of information). For point (2), a Quicksilver user with the iTunes plugin can access any song, artist, album or playlist within iTunes without using the mouse, browsing the finder, or activating iTunes. That is, item (2) was done completely inside the Quicksilver interface. This is all because Quicksilver's iTunes plugin gives direct access to iTunes data. This applies to many other commonly used applications that also have plugins. Much of the power of Quicksilver comes through its plugins.

These two things give Quicksilver its magic. It isn't just using keywords as shortcuts. Merlin Mann has written a number of entries on Quicksilver at 43 Folders. They are worth a look if you are interested in seeing what Quicksilver has over ActiveWords.

Jack Vinson said:

Since I don't have a Mac handy, I was going completely from conjecture. And since QuickSilver and ActiveWords are, for now, isolated from one another, this "comparison" is fair.

It sounds as if QuickSilver with plugins can be quite smart.

Hmmmm... I am not sure that we need to look at Quicksilver and ActiveWords as being competitive ideas. Rather, each feature set offer its unique set of powerful interface additions.

ActiveWords offers a direct connection between words and actions: "yahoo[trigger]" delivers www.yahoo.com.

Quicksilver offers a fast means to parse words/action relationships: "[trigger]yahoo" gives me a selection of frequently used actions related to the word "yahoo" I can select from, then press ENTER to execute.

It is probably not a matter of one approach having something "over" the other approach. More likely, the ActiveWords and Quicksilver ideas both have a home in the hearts of users, some overlapping use of each, some not.

It would be interesting to get a Macintosh implemention of ActiveWords (any takers?) and see how the ActiveWords and Quicksilver ideas might work together to provide value beyond that provided by each individually.

Shane Lindsay said:

There is a pc version of quicksilver - approcket

Mike said:

Approcket is a nice little program (I own it), but its not even .01% as powerful as quicksilver. approcket is rather closed off for developers to crate plugins. For the Mac the closest thing to ActieWords is Textpander.

Jeff Foster said:

The real beauty of quicksilver parallels what i see as (generally) the real beauty of the whole OS X platform, in that upon installation, it sort of Just Worksâ„¢
(not to sound too fanboy or anything.)

I am constantly surprised that when i want to do something, i'll just throw some keystrokes at quicksilver and 99% of the time, it seems to intuitively know what i want and give it to me. With very little setup (i needed to set up the google query) it really just learns from its seldom mistakes and always does what i hope it will. :)

that is to say: even things i've never tried before tend to just work how i hoped / imagined.

Active Words sounds nice for very very simple and repetitive tasks, but it sounds pretty underpowered when you put it next to QS. (the comparison has a hint of apples-to-artificial-apple-flavoring, in my mind.)

It would be worth your time to spend some time on QS and really gain an appreciation. 5 - 10 days of trying to use it as much as you can... and you'll be addicted. :)

jackvinson Author Profile Page said:

Thanks, Jeff. Unfortunately, QuickSilver is out of my world, as I operate on a PC. I did just hear about a Windows app called Launchy that is said to be something quite similar to QuickSilver. From their website, I don't believe it has any plugins that make QuickSilver even more powerful.

As Pete Weldon said above, QS and AW aren't true competitors for a number of reasons.

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