Using TextExpander and Spotlight to replace Quicksilver (and the Little Snitch and TextExpander snafu)

Replacing Quicksilver

I have used Quicksilver primarily an application launcher for a long time. It’s great, but I have found it has gotten too slow for practical use lately; I have disabled it.

Spotlight, the Mac’s built-in computer search tool, was optimized for finding applications almost immediately in OS X 10.5, so it’s a viable alternative.

The only downside is that Quicksilver had a timesaving feature in that it could learn abbreviations. For example, whenever I typed “shop” after the first few times, it knew I meant Photoshop; and whenever I typed “nnw”, Quicksilver knew to launch my favorite Mac feed reader, NetNewsWire. Spotlight would find NetNewsWire if I typed “netn”, but it would never learn to recognize “nnw”; similarly – and even worse – typing “Photo” finds things like Photo Booth and iPhoto along with Photoshop, and “shop” does nothing particularly useful.

My solution was simple. I used the useful application TextExpander, which allows things like automatically shortening a URL in your clipboard, to add just a few short rules. For applications which I wanted to launch with a custom abbreviation, such as “nnw” for NetNewsWire, I just added the abbreviation as a TextExpander rule. Examples: “nnw” expands to NetNewsWire; “twr” exands to Twitterrific; “pshop” exands to Photoshop. (Note that having “shop” expand to Photoshop would have a lot of side effects.) So now I just hit Cmd-Space and type “twr” to launch Twitterrific!

OS X 10.6 Update: If you have OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, you now have a TextExpander-like utility built in.  (It’s in System Preferences’ “Language & Text” pane, under the “Text” tab.)  Unfortunately, it does not appear to work in Spotlight or, indeed, most apps.   — Alan, September 8, 2009.

The Snitch and TextExpander Problem

Warning: Your computer will not accept any input – be it keyboard or mouse – if the Mac firewall program Little Snitch catches a request from TextExpander! You have to perform a hard reset. This can happen if you attempt to use a URL-shortening feature of Little Snitch.

One workaround is to add a rule to Little Snitch allowing any program to make calls to the domains is.gd, bit.ly or any other URLs that TextExpander might ever access. This works.

Another solution may or may not be to add a rule allowing the system process “curl” to access anything it wants.


February 12th, 2009. (Updated: September 09, 2009 at 2:11am.)
Alan Hogan (@alanhogan).  Contact · About