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Who needs Longhorn?

Alright, I admit it, I haven't followed Longhorn's feature map. I'm referring to the supposed "search everything" metaphore that they're planning to introduce.

However, quite without intending to, I'm already mostly there. Many of you may know that my primary machine is an Apple Powerbook (12", the better to fit into my bag...). I've used several tools on it that bring search into my everyday use, and they're all really cool.

The first, now deprecated, was called Another Launcher, now known as Butler. This is a handy little Mac OS X tool which lets you set keyboard shortcuts to launch just about anything (bookmarks, apps, I think even contacts). But the defining feature was the ability  to set a keyboard shortcut that would search it's list of stuff. It's pretty easy (probably the default, I forget) for all applications in the normal places to be automatically included in this list.

I quickly stopped using the mouse to launch apps. Instead, I typed Cmd-Space, and typed part of the app's name, then enter. It did partial matches, and generally found the right thing. Need Mail? 5 or 6 keypresses, of the easiest non-finger-bending variety would get it for you. Same with Safari, or, more importantly, any of the 20-30 apps I use less than once a day, but still want to have easy access to. And no training myself how to launch each - just the one keystroke needs memorizing.

I used Another Launcher for a long time with happiness, until I ran across a review of QuickSilver. The version I have, apparently an older version than is being tested right now, is still a little green around the corners. But it still takes search up a level. I have it set to index pretty much my entire home directory (well, like 3-levels from home, which is good enough), and all of the sources of bookmarks and applications that I have set up on the machine. It also happens to support reading the Mac OS X address book, among other stuff. Same Cmd-Space assigned to it... Butler had to take a secondary keystroke, 'cause it wasn't as flexible. But, now, I can type part of any document name, application, folder, control panel, etc. and it comes up. I no longer need to know where anything actually is, spatially or otherwise, to get it up on the screen.

This might not be for everyone, but I heavily multitask. And I still plan to organize my documents into useful hierarchies for browsing. But I'll do that once, when I first save the document. From then on, I'll search for my active documents (ones recent enough that I remember what I called them), thank you very much. Browsing is slow, and mentally taxing, compared to instant-find.

Does anyone know about such tools for either KDE or Win32? I'd really like to bring the rest of my operating environments up to speed.

Caveats: Both of these tools only search metadata, which is perhaps less than Longhorn and similar technologies will provide. I imagine that such depth will be useful, but, since it implicitly increases the collision space for short queries, one of the charming elements of the use cases I describe above, I think it's going to need to be a secondary feature. What's lovely about QuickSilver is that, once you've used it a little (search results appear ordered somewhat based on which ones you've used before, if any), it returns a very relevant top-two to an extremely short query. Picking the right one is easy. If that relevance dropped even to top-5, I think its usefulness would drop significantly.

Comments

Do you have any idea how to turn of the system-oriented function keys, besides holding down the "function" key (I think it is)? I've found it can be really annoying when playing world of warcraft and using the function keys to rotate between party members to have to hold the function key down to do so. Nerdy, I know.

Also, thanks for this post. I'm interested to try out these programs.

Have you tried checking the "Use the F1-F12 keys for custom actions" checkbox on the first tab of the "Keyboard & Mouse" pref pane? I have had this kick in and out depending on which keyboard I have attached, but I think that might be related to my use of [uControl][]. Ironically, if you have 10.2, you can use uControl to achieve this feature.

[uControl]: http://gnufoo.org/ucontrol

Yup, I've tried that. I normally just end up hooking up an external keyboard, which is probably a good idea anyway with that game. Thanks a lot though.

tangential, given that your disclaimers disclaim everything about your title and intro, but I ran across this today:

http://www.25hoursaday.com/weblog/PermaLink.aspx?guid=49250729-fd67-4dd1-a960-2a6a8f55d9cb

I'd actually had a couple of conversations this week with folks related to WinFS, including Mike Deem and Scoble. We talked about the fact that external perceptions of the whats and whys of WinFS don't really jibe with what's being built. A lot of people think WinFS is about making search better [even a number of Longorn evangelists and marketing folks]. WinFS is really a data storage and data access platform that aims to enable a lot of scenarios, one of which just so happens to be better search. In addition, whether you improve full text search and the indexing service used by the operating system is really orthogonal to WinFS.

As for applications on windows, I haven't been following closely, but I do know that there are a lot of major search applications for windows that will even search your local e-mail and inside documents... they just cost $$$. Numerous applications have Quicksilver-like type-to-launch capabilities, but I've never used any of them.

all my useful data is on my blog, including hundreds of bookmarks, and that has its own search box, and it works from any computer with an internet connection, regardless of OS :).

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