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Butler: kick-ass OSX app-tool-doohicky

posted in Geek Talk on January 21, 2005

It's taken a bit of getting used to, but once you get the feel of how to use Butler, it makes moving from application to bookmark to web search effortless -- like an OS should be.


Butler has a few genius hooks that make it really handy. My favorite being the keyboard shortcuts and hotkeys. Want to open iChat? ctrl-space brings up the Butler keyboard shortcut dialogue. Start typing and it intelligently searches whatever groups you've set up (applications, bookmarks from all your browsers, Address Book library, iTunes library, custom shortcuts, etc) -- "ic" immediately brings up iChat, hit enter and it loads up.

Need Scott's phone number? ctrl-space, "scot", enter, and it shows up onscreen. Want to open ctrl-space, "vers", enter (if it's in your bookmarks), or type out "" and hit enter, and Butler opens a browser with the URL, as well as remembering it for the next time.

Butler learns from your habits, so it intelligently adapts to how you use it.

I've set up ctrl-alt-m to open a web-search-dialogue (no matter what app I'm in) which searches IMDB. ctrl-alt-t opens up Terminal. ctrl-alt-d opens a web-search dialogue. ctrl-alt-c brings up the Butler configuration. ctrl-alt-space starts & stops iTunes, ctrl-alt-arrows goes to prev/next track.

You can also add items to Butler by dragging them to a definable hot-area on screen. So, to add the URL from Safari, drag it to the top-left of the screen, which brings up Butler's configuration screen, then drag it to the area/folder you want it stored. Effing brilliant.

Butler screenshot

The web-search dialogue for IMDB (I've set ctrl-alt-m to bring this up)

The default configuration puts a Google search in your menubar, as well as a few drop-down menus with access to all your volumes, quick user switching, smart menus such as Music (showing what's playing in iTunes, plus menu-based browsing of your library), recent Documents, Applications, a configurable stack of Pasteboard entries (ie: the last 7 things you've copied into the clipboard), and a menu of all your bookmarks. My menubar is cluttered enough as it is, so I opted to use the Docklet version of these menus, which allows you to put it on a corner of the screen as a small icon.

Like I said, it took me a bit to get used to it, but I really like the ability to keep my desktop and dock clean with my absolute essentials, and any app or utility I rarely use (ctrl-space, "calc" brings up calculator) is quickly accessible with a few keystrokes. The English version of the documentation isn't finished as of writing, but the essentials are laid out, and it's pretty easy to figure out. Peter has considerably improved the documentation, and has released the 4.0 stable release of Butler (with a Universal Binary 4.0 beta).

More information/download:

TextMate project popup with Butler

(Added 2/4/2006)

I set up Butler to list all my TextMate projects in a concise list in a popup window by doing the following:

  • I moved all my .tmproj files to a single folder in my Websites root directory
  • added a container in Butler with the folder containing all my .tmproj files
  • assigned the container a hotkey ctrl-opt-w (arbitrary) and set it to: "Opens a menu near the mouse"
Butler with Textmate screenshot

The Textmate Project popup triggered with ctrl-alt-w

I previously had all the .tmproj files inside each site's homedir, and set Butler to only show files with a .tmproj extension with 2 levels of recursion, but it was too slow. Making a dedicated tmproj folder makes this an instantaneous popup with ctrl-opt-w that shows all my TM projects, which can be opened by keyboard or mouse. (I guess this could be done within TM with shell commands, too, in a very similar manner, but using Butler allows you to open a project from anywhere.)

7 comments on this entry

Yah, But can it do your dishes?

Ctrl-D "Dishes=Clean"

Shawn 1/22/05

OMG you are the geekiest geek in all of geekdom. Freeky Geeky. Geek Daddy.

cuz-k 1/30/05

yes, this is what happens when you spend 10 hours a day on the computer. for 15 years. you look for programs that make you less insane in trying to do what you want on the "godblasted machines". (look, i'm quoting myself now.)

and now that we're in this fantastic 21st century, you write about looking for the program for your computer on your blog on your computer for other people on their computer.

this lil' article is pretty out of place on brainfag; it's more akin to what i read on the web, haha. oh-hoho. haha. <kaff!> geek-daddy indeed!

nate 1/30/05

yes, but can it do something like Smart Item : Text
%pasteboard% ?

Boo 10/29/05

uh, where would I use that? I don't even use the pasteboard functions of butler (which look great, but I just have a one-level concept of cut-n-paste, I guess). I just set ctrl-alt-p to bring up the pasteboard, though, after reading this.

is Smart Item : Text %pasteboard% a launchbar or quicksilver thing?

Nate 11/3/05

You might quite like Quicksilver too then. You can do just about anything with it. Except make toast. Stupid real world with toast 'n stuff.

Seth 2/15/07

you know, i spent a good 3-4 months with Quicksilver after using Butler for years. and i went back, because Quicksilver was 1) too buggy and 2) cumbersome to do the things i use Butler most for. QS is amazing, tho, and i wouldn't hesitate to point anyone in it's direction. i just like the streamlined functionality of Butler, as well as the method of configuration.

nate 10/15/07

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