November 07, 2007

Leopard: Quicksilver for the rest of us?

In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come
back to us with a certain alienated majesty.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

I believe that when you get to a certain number of objects, search trumps categorization, and as I’ve detailed previously, a number of Adobe apps (InDesign, After Effects, Illustrator) feature built-in methods for searching the interface (applying commands, finding help).  We haven’t quite gotten to the point of rolling out a unified, cross-product way to drive the applications via search, however.

To meet the need, many Mac power users dig Quicksilver–a powerful little utility that enables searching, app launching, car-waxing, and more.  Try as I might, though, I’ve never gotten into QS.  It’s not that it doesn’t do enough; it’s that it can do so much, and I get totally bewildered by setting a 747 cockpit’s worth of switches.

That’s why I’m intrigued by Leopard’s Spotlight-style searching of application menus (a weirdly unheralded feature, I think).  As you type, related terms pop up, and as you arrow through the list of results, Leopard highlights the results.  Here’s an animated screenshot of the feature running in Photoshop.

I’ve found that by assigning a global keyboard shortcut ("Cmd-?") to Help->Search via system preferences, I can now drive any Mac app’s menus via the keyboard.  That’s pretty powerful: instead of having to memorize (or assign) lots of keyboard shortcuts, or having to hunt and peck through rarely-used apps’ menus, it’s now possible just to hit Cmd-?, then start typing.

Yes, I know that Quicksilver can do much more, and there’s all kinds of room to improve on the Leopard feature.  That said, the latter’s simplicity makes it really appealing.  I’ll be curious to see how much I (and others) end up using it day-to-day. [Update: Apparently I’m not alone: I see in the notes of this podcast that Leo Laporte has ditched Quicksilver in favor of Leopard menu search.]

* Side note: I love that it’s now possible to browse Safari’s history via the search feature.  I’ve been using search in Safari 2, but the new UI exposes the capability much more readily.  On a further side note, apparently the extension Safari Stand will bring Cover Flow viewing to your history.

Posted by John Nack at 11:32 PM on November 07, 2007


  • Jim Monaco — 5:51 AM on November 08, 2007

    Incidentally, those of us in Windows have been doing this since Photoshop was young–I consider it to be one of the prime reasons that I love Photoshop on Win. The Alt key lets me do the same thing you’ve described here. One letter in each menu is underlined when Alt is pressed, and pressing that letter pulls the menu. Each menu item then gets a letter, and pressing that letter selects the appropriate item (or pulls a sub-menu, which in turn has it’s letters underlined).
    So, Image Size has always been (for me) .
    Canvas Size is
    Brightness/Contrast is (adjustments sub-menu).
    I’ve got literally dozens of them memorized–it’s surprisingly easy, but many of them make lots of sense (I for image, E for Edit, F for File, L for Layer…)–but memorization isn’t even required, since you get handy visual cues. It’s like having a built-in keyboard shortcut for every single thing that Photoshop does (or any Windows App), and they’re pretty intuitive.
    It’s interesting that Mac, after all these years, hasn’t really made that kind of feature a priority…

  • Welles — 5:58 AM on November 08, 2007

    That’s amazing! So who knew? Thanks for a great tip! BTW I believe Command + ? or (Command + Shift +/) is the default.
    [I don’t think there’s a shortcut assigned by default, which is obviously a big problem if you intend to use it more than occasionally. I find that assigning one makes all the difference. –J.]

  • Julian Kussman — 10:58 AM on November 08, 2007

    I just spent 10 minutes trying to figure out why this wasn’t working on my work computer only to realize I still had Tiger on it. Neat feature though.

  • Mark Thomas — 6:51 PM on November 08, 2007

    Just as Quicksilver is popular with only a very narrow demographic of people — those who think very linearly and logically and are adept at maintaining a complex mental roadmap of their computer — I have a hunch this will never really catch on in a meaningful way.
    Besides, a single click on a dock icon will beat a Quicksilver master every time.
    Every time.
    The stopwatch doesn’t lie.

  • Miguel Marcos — 12:49 AM on November 09, 2007

    > Besides, a single click on a
    > dock icon will beat a
    > Quicksilver master every time.
    > Every time.
    > The stopwatch doesn’t lie.
    Well, sure, if your definition of the best UI is based strictly on that factor, hey, that’s alright. There’s more to a useful UI than that for me, however. I work differently. I appreciate and enjoy calling up QS and zipping to whatever my next action is every time.
    Every time.

  • Mark Thomas — 10:08 PM on November 09, 2007

    Well, sure, if your definition of the best UI is based strictly on that factor, hey, that’s alright.
    My definition of the best UI is one which combines speed, efficiency and simplicity with a minimum of keystrokes and mouse clicks. Some people feel faster using apps like Quicksilver which superimpose a kind of command line over the GUI. That’s cool. Perception trumps reality every time. If a person feels faster using Quicksilver, it doesn’t matter what the stopwatch says. I mean that sincerely.
    Here’s a perfect example. Sitting in traffic for three hours feels like an eternity. I’d rather get off the highway and drive along the coast road where there are no traffic jams even if the trip ultimately takes an hour longer. Driving feels faster than sitting in traffic. Perception trumps reality.
    Every time. :D
    Of course, icons aren’t always as efficient as they should be. Photoshop’s broken tool palette would be a lot more efficient if it leveraged screen edges by eliminating all that needless padding around the icons (and made the icons larger), but I’m not holding my breath.

  • Eric — 12:08 AM on November 10, 2007

    Between Spotlight and this new feature, I can see why you like it. I’m thinking of dropping Quicksilver for the very same reason.
    For me, this would be for finding those features that I don’t already know and have a keyboard combo for. Creating such combos is drop-dead easy in Photoshop.
    For more obscure menu items I rarely use, this will be handy. Maybe it’s because the commands for the features of Photoshop I normally use already have keyboard combinations burned into my brain (Curves=Command+M) makes alt+menu-menu+menu to manipulate an item three levels deep pale in comparison.
    I should note, also that long-time Mac program QuicKeys (which also runs in Windows these days) adds much more complex, powerful ways of interacting with any application, including Photoshop, compared to mere menu manipulation with the alt/option key.

  • Aral Balkan — 2:52 AM on November 11, 2007

    Hey John,
    Thanks for the tip — loving that feature (by the way, Command + Shift + / was assigned for me by default, I didn’t have to set it in Prefs — although I may change it to Command + / to make it easier.)
    I still use QuickSilver though for launching apps as it is much much much faster than Spotlight.

  • RichardBronosky — 5:50 AM on January 15, 2008

    Welles was right cmd+shift+/ was the default shortcut for “Show Help menu” in System Preferences>Keyboard & Mouse>Keyboard Shortcuts. I use this so much that decided to switch it ro cmd+enter since I am on a MacBook Pro (and the enter key is absolutely wasted there beside the cmd key) but once I get back to the office and use my external keyboard I bet I’ll switch it to cmd+/
    Thank you so much for this tip. This (menu navigation) has been the biggest thing that I have felt windows did better than Mac OS. I now feel that the Mac way is superior. I also feel that the Intel Mac portables option to “For secondary clicks, place two fingers on the trackpad then click the button” is better than have 2 “mouse” buttons. I have preferred the Mac ever since I saw the OS X
    Beta and discovered that I could do my development on Unix on a Lombard PowerBook. But now, with Leopard, I truly believe that the Mac is undeniably superior to windows. Even my boss noticed that my MBP would connect to the microsoft SQL Server servers via Remote Desktop Connection and perform at least twice as fast as his top-of-the-line windows desktop. He now uses a MBP too.

  • Timothy Mackey — 4:38 AM on February 23, 2009

    John, How did you set the keyboard shortcut to target the Help Searchbox? I can’t figure out what to put into the box for “Menu Title”. At the moment, when I try to use the cmd-? combo, it opens up the help viewer.

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