Why Quicksilver Never Caught On With Most Mac Users

One of my favorite Mac utilities is also the most difficult app I’ve ever tried (and failed often) to master. This power app is called Quicksilver and billed as a productivity app though you’re likely to lose some productivity while trying to improve your productivity.

Using the word ‘productivity’ three times in a single sentence should at least tie the record.

Quicksilver is a free launcher app for the Mac which gives you quick, keyboard-based options to handle basic tasks or customized tasks without using mouse or trackpad. Think of it as Command-Tab app switching gone wild, or OS X Yosemite’s version of Spotlight but with tricks and a touch of artificial intelligence.

As a launcher, Quicksilver gets you to apps, contacts, music, documents, files, and more with just a few keyboard clicks. That’s the claim to fame, and the problem. Keep your hands on the keyboard and away from mouse or trackpad and, ostensibly, you’re more productive.

Enter specific keywords on your Mac and Quicksilver responds with appropriately matched options, but also learns as you go. It also comes with dozens of add-on options so the app can be customized, almost automatically, for your Mac workflow.

Quicksilver Screenshots

That’s the problem. Workflow. And that may explain why the app isn’t commercial, and you’ll be hard pressed to find many Quicksilver users among the Mac clan. Quicksilver, though simple enough to setup and begin using, requires an adjustment in our workflow procedures and methods. It’s keyboard driven, and though you can still use mouse or trackpad, doing so defeats the purpose.

Because Quicksilver comes with many add-ons in the way of plugins, it’s highly customizable, but that requires a Mac user to think through their usage workflow, adjust to new tools or ways to access tools, and, well, simply put, make changes.

Some of what makes up Spotlight in OS X Yosemite takes inspiration from Quicksilver, so Apple layers in functionality slowly, so as to increase adoption. But even Spotlight forces a Mac user to think about what’s going on during the search, while Quicksilver lets you type what you want and then figures it out over time.

I’ve been using a Mac about as long as anyone on the planet not associated with Apple in 1984, and getting true productivity from Quicksilver has been a long running challenge. Some of that may be attributed to a learning disorder whereby shortcuts are not retained, or perhaps because using only the keyboard takes me back to the early days of learning CP/M on an Osborn 1.

Regardless, using Quicksilver is easy at first but requires effort to become truly productive (which often means simply avoiding the trackpad and mouse as much as possible), and the reward may not come quickly.

Here’s the key.

Quicksilver gives you quick access to all your important things. With only a few keystrokes, you can get to your applications, files, contacts, bookmarks, music, etc. Don’t get distracted though; although Quicksilver finds and launches things quickly and extremely well, it’s more about doing, not finding.

Install Quicksilver, and begin using it by typing instead of pointing and clicking to launch apps or find files. Quicksilver learns your habits as you go, and you learn how Quicksilver functions. I love it and hate it at the same time.


  1. And if you really like typing rather than mousing (for its efficiency), eventually you can graduate to using the Terminal for everything. Of course it defeats the point of using a Mac in the first place, but hey, at least you got there in the end. Welcome back to the ’70s!