So I’ve been working on the new PowerBook full-time for the past couple of weeks. For the most part, I think I’ve got my routine figured out, though there are still some learning curves ahead of me.
When I got the PB, the first extra piece of software that I installed was Quicksilver. I’d heard enough about QS to know that it would serve as at least a partial replacement for the ActiveWords that I relied upon so much on my PC. This is just one guy’s rundown of the similarities and contrasts between these two excellent programs. The bottom line is that regardless of whether you’re using a pc or a mac, installing one of these tools will help you streamline the way you interact with your computer. I’m just going to break up the review into a few categories and review each utility in turn. This is totally subjective and the categories I’m choosing to review are based on what’s important to me and my own usage patterns. YMMV and, as always, I welcome corrections, clarifications and tips from Kindly Readers.
ActiveWords has three price points, ranging from $19.99 up to $49.99. Quicksilver, since it’s currently a BETA product, is free. I fully expect to (and gladly will) pay for QS at some date in the future, once the developer determines that it’s ready for market.
Activation and startup
Upon installation, both programs will default to loading when you boot your machine but, in both cases, this behavior can be changed via preferences.
Appending to text file
This is my new favorite trick. Quicksilver does this with the assistance of an easily installed plugin called ‘Text Manipulation Actions.’ ActiveWords does this when combined with a Visual Basic Script that you can get here. Not all append to text tricks are created equal, though. The AW/VBS version actually prepends the text with a time and date stamp–I love this, and I haven’t figured out how to make QS act similiarly. Probably takes some Applescript voodoo, thus the learning curve I referred to earlier. On the other hand, Quicksilver allows me to write my note, then point the note at the specific text file I wish to append–very nice. ActiveWords will append to multiple files too, but you’ll have to modify the VBS code and create a new activeword…a little clunkier.
Navigating applications and files
Quicksilver does this, ActiveWords doesn’t. Since I’m new to the mac and QS has been on my machine since the beginning, it has become my default interface with the PowerBook. For instance, if I’m looking for a particular subfolder in the Documents folder, I can either invoke QS and type the name of the subfolder and see the results, or invoke QS, type Documents (actually, "docu" is all it takes) and use arrow keys to find the correct folder/document. Once I’m where I want to be, I can still use the arrow keys to navigate around and find what I’m looking for. Once I’ve found what I’m looking for, I can perform various actions on it–trash it, move it, open it, etc. All this without leaving whatever application I’m currently working on.
Opening frequently accessed files, folders and applications
Both ActiveWords and Quicksilver do this, though in different ways. QS begins to learn what I want as it detects how I use it. So the first time I might have to go browsing for document xyz, but soon after, it’ll be the first result I get after typing "xyz". ActiveWords will invoke documents, folders and applications, when you assign an activeword to the desired file, folder or application. ActiveWords allows you to assign multiple activewords to a given action, so if I can’t remember that the file I want is called ‘xyz’, then I can also assign an activeword called ‘abc’ to open the same file. So whether I type ‘abc’ or ‘xyz’, I still get the file/folder/application that I wanted. I haven’t found a way in Quicksilver to do the same thing–if I want file ‘xyz’, then I either have to know the name of it, or know where it’s stored and get it from there. Of course, with a little forethought, Smart Folders could be useful in solving this, as well as the excellent ‘Spotlight’ search utility in OSX.
Performing internet actions
Both Quicksilver and ActiveWords allow this though, again, in different ways. Quicksilver allows you to open URL’s a couple of ways–it can browse and open bookmarks (even your del.icio.us ones), or you can open a URL directly by typing it in. There are also a whole bunch of predefined search actions that can be launched via QS. ActiveWords allows you to define a specific search action to an activeword, or you can set it up to search the internet by default when it can’t find the word you typed in the activeword ‘wordbase.’
Logging into applications
The ‘Plus’ and ‘Enterprise’ versions of ActiveWords offer some scripting tools that allow an advanced user to create scripts that, among other things, can launch an application, enter your userid and password and navigate to a desired location. Very, very useful (if you don’t mind storing your userid and password in plaintext on your local machine). Barring aforementioned Applescript voodoo, I haven’t seen similar functionality in Quicksilver. Yet.
Checking for misspellings
Because ActiveWords is always watching what you type, it was a natural for setting up a database of common misspellings and allowing AW to correct them on the fly, irrespective of context (you can be in a text entry box on the web, or some local application–doesn’t matter where). You can even update the database with your own quirky misspellings. Quicksilver has no similar functionality and I miss it every single day.
Accessing the clipboard (and shelf)
Quicksilver allows me to store and search all the random stuff I’ve copied to the clipboard. I’ve got my limit set to 200 items, which means that I can quickly browse the last 200 snippets of things I put on the clipboard. I can shut down and restart and the history is still there. QS also has this thing called the "Shelf" which is essentially a persistent clipboard–you put stuff there (documents, text snippets, whatever) and it stays there until you delete it. You can store, for example, library card numbers, different sig files, frequently accessed images, etc. ActiveWords doesn’t do the clipboard history trick, but the shelf is essentially what ActiveWords does, except without the need for mouse drag/drop action. Assign an activeword to a sig file, or to your library card number, etc.
Random fun/quirky stuff
ActiveWords will let you hide all the icons on your desktop. This is much cooler than it sounds. You can still clutter up your desktop, but you don’t have to see the mess–just create an activeword that opens your desktop as a folder (which is a more useful way to use the desktop, anyway, since you can sort by file type, etc). Quicksilver will let you type something and make the computer speak the words, or you can make the thing you typed show up in large text across your screen. Of course, QS is just accessing functionality that is built in to OSX, but it’s still kinda fun.
That’s a pretty broad comparative overview–both applications will do much more than what I’ve described here, and both are huge timesavers (or timewasters, depending upon how much of tinkerer you are). On the Windows platform, I’ve heard that AppRocket is very similar to Quicksilver and, also on Windows, there’s the very useful (and free) AutoHotKey, which will do much, but not all, of what ActiveWords will do, albeit without the nice interface. On OSX, I seem to recall seeing references to apps that are similar to Quicksilver, but I can’t remember what they are. Maybe a Kindly Reader can enlighten us all.