The same situation occurs with the Mac’s app launcher of choice, the venerable Dock. It’s free. It’s built-in. It works. Everyone knows how to use it, but not everyone does because there are better alternatives for app launching. Here’s my list of how you can open, find, and use apps faster and better on your Mac.
Type And Ye Shall Receive
The real secret to productivity on a Mac is to keep your hands on the keyboard. The Dock and the Finder are not keyboard centric; they’re mouse centric. Keyboard is better.
Alfred – Not first on Mac power users list is Alfred; as much of a digital assistant as an app launcher, but one that fits in with all Mac users who have learned the keyboard is your friend.
Alfred searches the Mac instantly to find files, open folders, launch apps, control, calculate, view contacts, run iTunes, capture your clipboard history, and even spell for you. Type and ye shall receive.
QuickSilver – The Dock is the big reason that app developers cannot charge much for their app launchers, but the folks who run QuickSilver just don’t care. It’s free. It’s powerful. It’s extensible. Think of what a mashup of Dock, Finder, and Spotlight could do if they could only be accessed by keyboard shortcuts. That’s QuickSilver.
It’s a launcher, file browser, control app with a gazillion and twelve plugins which extend its power, but it’s not totally keyboard drive. It even knows drag and drop.
DragThing – At one time DragThing was my absolute favorite Mac app launcher and file navigator, but it hasn’t been updated in years, though it still seems to work on my Mac. Basically, what you get is a highly customizable floating palette that lets you one-click to launch an app, one-click to navigate a folder of files, or an entire Mac volume (your disk drive, for example).
Customizing DragThing can be an afternoon exercise because here are oh so many options, so it takes time to get it right, but nothing is easier for the Mac user who needs to go beyond the Dock but cannot fathom leaving the mouse and point and click for the keyboard.
Launchers And Finders – Mac users have many choices for apps that mimic the Dock or the Finder or both. A favorite is the little known Tab Launcher, which is what the Dock would be if it was modern and customizable.
The Finder can also be a launcher. Just customize the Sidebar or the Toolbar and populate each with the apps and documents you need most. The Dock can be customized, too, though not so much. I drop in the Applicatons, Document, Desktop, Utilities and Downloads folders to the right side of the Dock– one click access to everything.
I suspect that one reason Apple hasn’t provided much engineering love to the Finder and the Dock has more to do with diminishing returns than anything else. Making each more powerful with more functionality is easy. Making them easier to use it hard. They’re about as easy as they can be now.