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Articles: How To: Launch Apps from the Keyboard with Spotlight




How To Launch Apps from the Keyboard with Spotlight

There are multiple ways to launch apps in OS X. You can select an app icon in the Dock, double-click an app from the Applications folder, invoke Launchpad and click on the desired app, or choose an app from the Apple menu’s Recent Items > Applications submenu. You can even add commonly used apps to the toolbar of Finder windows by Command-dragging them up there.

But what if you can't take your hands off the keyboard because of some unfortunate Super Glue accident? Okay, it's more likely that you want to know this because you just like saving time by keeping your fingers right on top of your keys. So Is there any way to open an app without touching the mouse or trackpad? Yes indeedy, and it comes courtesy of Spotlight.

You’re probably familiar with using Spotlight as a search tool for finding files and folders on your Mac, and for ferreting out information on the Internet (in OS X 10.11 El Capitan, Spotlight can even find weather forecasts, sports scores, and stock prices). But what you may not know is that Spotlight can also quickly find all the apps on your Mac, and you can launch them with just a few keys.

To find out how, just follow these steps:

  1. Press Command-Space to display the Spotlight window.
  2. Begin typing an app’s name, such as “wo” for "Microsoft Word" (even "Mi" will bring up Word as well as any other Microsoft apps you have). For apps whose names have multiple words, you can type the first letter of each, such as "m w" to start with Microsoft Word as the first choice. And if an app name is a single InterCapped word, it’s fine to enter just the capitalized letters, as in “ft” for FaceTime. Spotlight searches, and very quickly and itelligently makes a good guess that you're looking for the exact app you are in fact looking for.
  3. If the app you want to launch is highlighted as the top hit, press Return to launch it. If it’s not the top hit, you can either continue typing to narrow the search or arrow down to it in the list, and then press Return.

That’s all there is to it! As you might guess, you can use the same technique to open documents or even system preferences panes.

Spotlight is also adaptive, so if the first time you type “ac” it suggests Adobe Content Viewer, once you select Activity Monitor instead, it will know that “ac” should open Activity Monitor in the future.

As most of us know, Spotlight isn’t always as fast as we might like, and while it guesses relatively well, you may find that its idea of what an app is called doesn’t always match with what you want to type.

But give it a try, and if you find that you like launching apps from the keyboard but want the best possible experience, try one of the four excellent keyboard launcher utilities on the Mac: Alfred, Butler, LaunchBar, or QuickSilver. Alfred and QuickSilver are both free, whereas Butler costs $20 and LaunchBar—the most powerful and popular of the pack, is $29.


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