Before I owned my first Mac, Quicksilver was the application that made me wish I did. Luckily, slowly but surely, Windows developers began building apps intended to successfully attain that Quicksilver-for-Windows status. They started as simple application launchers, but recently the Quicksilver-for-Windows battle has exploded with tons of new applications. The question is: Which one deserves a place on your system? Hit the jump for a closer look at your options, including the Quicksilver clone we’re most excited about (hint: it’s not Launchy).
If you’ve only heard of one Windows launcher, chances are Launchy is it. It’s probably the fastest application launcher for Windows, but it’s slowly been integrating more plug-ins and functionality. Launchy is the app of the bunch that I’ve used most and—admittedly—know most about. If Launchy is your app of choice, check out our advanced guide to tweaking Launchy (the guide is using an older version, but most of the ideas behind the tweaks are still useful for the current version). (Read more)
Launchy searches your indexed folders and files with lightning speed, so you don’t sit around waiting to find the result you’re looking for. It’s also got a lot of very nice configuration options and currently just a few great default plug-ins.
Despite its speed, Launchy is still a bit light in the loafers when it comes to advanced functionality beyond application launching. By default Launchy comes with just three (albeit good) plug-ins. If it’s going to impress like Quicksilver, it needs more.
This is the app that I’m most excited about right now, even though it’s not necessarily the app that I’d recommend the regular user start using. The thing that I absolutely love about MightyBox—but that’s also a bit absurd about it at first—is that it’s made no bones about its goals: It’s trying to completely clone Quicksilver for Windows. It looks exactly like Quicksilver’s Bezel interface and even uses most of the OS X icons.
Pros: MightyBox’s interface, lifted directly from Quicksilver, provides that two-to-three-pane subject/verb/object layout that makes Quicksilver so powerful and allows the user to perform more advanced functionality. MightyBox has also—impressively, I might add—managed to pull in a lot of really useful Quicksilver functionality that takes advantage of all of those panes (like copying, moving, or renaming files).
Cons: MightyBox is very young. It’s Java-based, and you currently need to run it from a .bat file. There’s no GUI for setting your preferences and no robust plug-in structure. It also eats around 50MB of RAM. In time, if MightyBox gets a bit more polish, it may earn a place in your system tray. Until then, it’s probably only for early adopters.
Find and Run Robot is a favourite of early adopters, but it hasn’t made its way to very mainstream use. It used to be primarily a launcher and nothing else, but it has added more plug-ins and advanced functionality. For the time being, those are all wrapped into the version 2 beta, which the author is holding off with at the moment. That said, FARR2 is what I used for this review.
Pros: Like Launchy, FARR is lightweight and fast. Since it has a plug-in architecture in place, it’s also extensible—a must-have for any good Quicksilver clone. The list of already available plug-ins is impressive, putting to shame much of the competition.
Cons: FARR is primarily a really fast launcher, and as such it uses a standard search box. It doesn’t have the action-building interface of Quicksilver, so you have to memorise all of the keywords for your plug-in actions rather than using the more intuitive graphical representation offered by Quicksilver. It also reverses the way actions are built, starting with the action (like “Search”).
I absolutely hated this app when it was first released, mostly due to an impressive media hype, its absurd pricetag, and very little substance to back it all up. Since then it’s gone freeware. (Read more)
Pros: Enso’s got a nice looking design and supposedly has a good plug-in architecture, but hell if I could find any plug-ins. It does allow you to build actions beyond simple application launching, and if you spend enough time with it there are some actions in there that might tickle your fancy.
Cons: Enso still hasn’t proven itself to be that useful, or that easy to integrate into your workflow. For example, the original demo video boasted about Enso’s ability to turn selected text into ALL CAPS (god knows I absolutely never need that functionality). Also, like FARR, Enso requires you to build from the action to the subject, so rather than typing Firefox and Enso assuming that your first choice of action would be Open, you have to type Open -> Firefox—which is more unnecessary work for common actions. By looking through their outdated FAQ, I’m worried that Enso is more abandonware than freeware.
DOMercury is another pretty naked attempt at copying the best of Quicksilver over to Windows (one of its interfaces mimics Quicksilver’s Primer interface). So how does it stand up?
Pros: Again, the three-pane interface is always welcoming, ensuring that advanced fucntionality is at the very least possible. DOMercury indexes the start menu for app launching, can manipulate windows, and launch or search web bookmarks.
Cons: Ugly. Especially the default skin for DOMercury (pictured). God it’s ugly, and not particularly easy to understand at a glance. Advanced functionality buried in a deceptively simple interface is part of what makes Quicksilver great, and so far DOMercury is missing out on that. It’s also a touch on the slow side.
This one also copies Quicksilver’s Primer interface and has a pretty impressive set of built-in actions. (FYI: If you’re going to mimic Quicksilver, Bezel is where it’s at—when I asked Quicksilver’s developer why Primer was the default interface, he said that he keeps forgetting to switch Bezel to the default.)
Pros: WinSilver does three panes. It’s got a good amount of Actions, like compress, copy, define, calculate, and tons of other useful stuff. Major kudos for a strong amount of functionality built in.
Cons: Unfortunately WinSilver is plagued by the bad search bug—a problem t
hat’s a killer for these sorts of applications. It indexes your browser bookmarks, for example, but doesn’t do a great job of weighting the search terms. When I’m searching for an application to launch like Firefox, I can’t even find the application—just bookmarks.
Dash Command came out and wowed a lot of people looking for a solid Quicksilver-for-Windows app, but it also threw up a huge roadblock for a lot of us: a $US20 licence. (Read more)
Pros: The Dash demo (below) highlights a lot of the good that Dash has going on. Dash has advanced past a lot of the others in terms of plug-in development, allowing users to do the traditional application launching in addition to web search, Gcal integration, Outlook email integration, and file browsing. More visual sexiness like thumbnail previews are also a nice touch. It’s also got skins and a good preference pane for tweaking Dash to your needs.
Cons: Dash’s biggest drawback is the pricetag. Quicksilver is free (as in speech), so it’s easy to get a very strong and passionate following. Also, since the functionality that Quicksilver provides beyond basic application launching is elusive to a lot of first-time users, it’s tough to open your wallet up off the bat.
Another promising looker, I haven’t seen much action from Skylight since we first posted about it last July. (Read more)
Pros: Looks good, responsive. It’s capable of learning your habits in true Quicksilver fashion and handles web searches well.
Cons: I can’t tell if this thing has seen any real development since I first covered it, which is a shame—it looks teriffic. The search is also a little underdeveloped, which is sort of a deal-breaker for an app of this kind.
So that’s the current state of things in the Quicksilver-for-Windows world. That’s not to say that things couldn’t change drastically over time, but the clear standouts in my mind are probably Launchy, FARR, and MightyBox (if only for it’s completely Quicksilver approach)—with honourable mentions for Skylight and Dash (Dash got docked for not being freeware, but if you’re willing to shell out some cash, it’s a good option).
Also, I’m not saying that each and every one of the applications is intended to wear that elusive Quicksilver-for-Windows crown. But as someone desperate to find a viable Quicksilver-like application for Windows, they’re ripe for comparison. Having said that, and at the risk of shoving Quicksilver even further in the faces of these developers, anyone looking at developing a really good launcher-and-then-some really should either try out Quicksilver or at least take a look at our several guides to Quicksilver’s best functionality.
I tried to cover most of the best contenders, but there’s always that chance that I missed your favourite or didn’t give your app of choice a favourable review. That’s okay, let’s hear what you prefer and why in the comments.