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Launcher Showdown: Quicksilver vs LaunchBar

A good app launcher makes all the difference in the world to me. It is really painful when there isn't one available, "How the hell do I open an application?!?!". On OS X there is always the Spotlight functionality, but that has never satisfied my needs. I need to be able to manipulate the item from the launcher, not just open it. I guess "launcher" is a really bad term for it, in reality it's a "do a bunch of awesome stuff thingamajig", but that's not easy to say.

Quicksilver has been my "launcher" of choice for quite some time now and before that I was using Butler, which I originally tried out because of its clipboard implementation. Quicksilver was recently open sourced, since the lead developer now works for Google and their launcher product called Google Quick Search Box. This was pretty much the beginning of the end for QS. While there are still some folks working on the open source version, it has been a slow process.

I recently overheard Andi Zeidler talking about LaunchBar on Twitter, so I decided to give it a try. That has turned out to be an excellent choice. Quicksilver has been plagued with some really strange issues for quite some time. Most of them are bearable, but sometimes it can be really annoying when you are trying to get something done fast. In the week and a half that I've been using it, the program has really exceeded all my expectations. So what makes it better?

LaunchBar Pros

There are a lot of really nice features in LaunchBar. Here is a rundown of some of the features that make it one of the best I've used.

  • Web searches are quoted properly, you can search for "Bob Marley & the Wailers" and get the proper results
  • Setup of LaunchBar is orders of magnitude easier than Quicksilver. If you've ever set up the clipboard and shelf in Quicksilver then you know what I'm talking about.
  • The default setup of LaunchBar makes much more sense, which is helpful for n00bs
  • The clipboard in LaunchBar is really nice
  • It doesn't assume that everything with a dot in it is a URL
  • You can access each line of a copied item from a sub menu
  • The clipboard menu tells you where the item was copied, and how many characters and lines it contains
  • You can merge multiple clippings into one by using the ClipMerge functionality
  • Using the OS X services menu items in LaunchBar actually works. This makes things like WordService useful again!
  • LaunchBar is really fast compared to Quicksilver
  • LaunchBar doesn't randomly forget its settings like Quicksilver would with the actions sometimes

LaunchBar Cons

While it has been an overall positive experience, there are still some things LaunchBar could learn from Quicksilver.

  • No custom triggers. This was one of my favorite things about Quicksilver. You could assign a keyboard shortcut to any "subject, verb" action. LaunchBar does not have this concept. It has "abbreviations", but it's not the same. I liked to be able to type "ctrl + option + cmd + l" and go to the login window. You can still do this in LaunchBar, but it takes more keystrokes.
  • No social bookmarking support. Quicksilver has a nice delicious integration that allows for the indexing of all your bookmarks and their corresponding tags. I used this feature A LOT. My brain is on the web, Quicksilver helped me query it very quickly.
  • LaunchBar doesn't have the concept of plugins like Quicksilver does. If it isn't there, then your only option is Applescript. Applescript sucks.
  • LaunchBar doesn't have the concept of a persistent clipboard or shelf. This is another feature from Quicksilver that I use A LOT.
  • Running unix executables from LaunchBar requires an open terminal window. Quicksilver can do these tasks in the background. LaunchBar has the ability for these scripts to be placed in the "Actions" folder. However, you have to have a property list file next to it that tells LaunchBar to run it in the background. This is less than optimal, especially for pre-existing executables.
  • LaunchBar doesn't have the same "comma trick" as Quicksilver does. I rarely use this feature, so it's not a big deal for me. You might be able to exchange some of the behavior by using the ClipMerge facility in LaunchBar.
  • With LaunchBar, you really need to read the docs to get the most out of it. There are a a lot of hidden gems in the form of keyboard combos. With Quicksilver it was usually pretty self-explanatory how to do things. Luckily the LaunchBar docs are very informative.
  • You can't start entering text like you could with Quicksilver by presssing "." and typing some text. LaunchBar has an "Enter Text" action that allows you to do something similar. Someone in the forums suggested that you assign "," to the "Enter Text" action. This works out well.
  • Performing "actions" on the "subject" are not as easy in LaunchBar. For instance, there are usually some actions hidden in the context menu of the item, you can right click or use a keyboard combo to open it up, but that's kind of a pain


In my humble opinion, LaunchBar is the best launcher out there right now. It could still stand to learn a few things from Quicksilver. But overall LaunchBar is the superior application. Hopefully there are devs watching the LaunchBar forums that will implement my requests :) While I wait for them to be implemented, I'm using a stripped down Quicksilver that just contains the delicious and shelf plugins to fill in for that missing functionality of LaunchBar.

If you haven't given a try yet, I strongly recommend you download a trial of LaunchBar 5 and take it for a spin.

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Posted by Trish at Jul 09, 2009 07:25 PM
Hi! I'm currently testing out QuillsEnabled and was wondering what you use to allow anonymous (or rather, not logged-in users') comments?

Also, I love Quicksilver, but haven't tried LaunchBar yet. Perhaps I'll test it out after reading your post...

re: Hello!

Posted by claytron at Jul 09, 2009 07:30 PM
I use qPloneComments to allow for anonymous comments and comment moderation. There is a GSoC project going on right now to fix the story in Plone. See Jon Stahl's blog post on the subject here:[…]/

PS: I finally purchased LaunchBar (trial ran out) and I'm still loving it. But I'm also still using QS for a few things :)

re: Hello!

Posted by claytron at Jul 09, 2009 07:32 PM
Oops, that was an old post of Jon's, still informative. Here is what is currently happening with the GSoC in 2009.[…]/

re: Hello!

Posted by trish at Jul 13, 2009 08:42 PM
Awesome! I've been playing with qPloneComments but ran into a few problems between it and QuillsEnabled. I'll keep at it though, seems to work nicely on your blog. =)

Posted by Christian at Jul 11, 2009 10:49 AM
Good post. If one comes from QS this helps what to expect and what not. I'm not sure if some of your requests will be implemented though ...
I tried the delicious thing in QS but it was slowing things down a lot.

What I like most about LB over QS is
... speed, reliability & development
... that it uses space instead of Tab for subselect
... that it remembers text for each search etc. individually.

If there is one thing I still miss its the shelf. I found a workaround for text but it is not really the same.

PTH Pasteboard for QS Shelf Replacement

Posted by Jono Young at Nov 11, 2011 09:13 AM
I was using quicksilver's shelf until I discovered PTH Pasteboard. I no longer use shelf but still use QS. Now I am moving to LaunchBar.

Check out PTH Pasteboard for sure.

Great post! Where is the like/share button?

Posted by Jubair Saidi at Apr 12, 2011 06:24 AM
Great post! Heard about Launch Bar and figured I would do some research before trying the trial in the morning (computer off for the night). I was left wondering though, you have no Facebook like/share button for posts! Would be great if you added them :) twitter too maybe?

RE: Great post! Where is the like/share button?

Posted by claytron at Apr 12, 2011 08:53 AM
I added some share buttons to the bottom of the posts. Feel free to use them now :)

Also, check out Alfred ( It is from the guy who originally created Butler. I haven't had a chance to give it a thorough run yet.

RE: Great post! Where is the like/share button?

Posted by Jubair Saidi at Apr 12, 2011 12:52 PM
cool! thanks :D

What about Alfred?

Posted by Under Your Hat at Jan 11, 2013 03:06 PM
Have you ever tried Alfred? You can find a nice review here:[…]/

I have dropped launchbar ever since I found out about Alfred app...

What about Alfred?

Posted by claytron at Jan 11, 2013 03:13 PM
I actually use Alfred now :)

If I ever start blogging again, I'll re-visit this topic. There are a few things that Launchbar is still better at, but over all Alfred does everything I need.