Killing the Pseudo Start Menu

by Chris Adamson

If you're a power user, you probably have something like this in your dock:

Applications folder alias in Dock

This is an alias of the Applications folder, which I dragged into the Dock. The reasoning is simple - I have more commonly-used applications than I'd care to put on the dock, but if they're not on the dock, then I have to:

  1. Open a Finder window

  2. Click on the Applications folder in the left nav

  3. Find my app and double click it

Putting the Applications folder in the Dock allows you to right-click (or ctrl-click) it for a contextual menu listing its contents, ie, all your applications

Pop-up applications list

This saves a few steps, though you still have to scan/scroll through the alphabetical listing to find your app. So it kind of sucks. If you need something from the Utilities folder, then you're into the realm of hierarchical menus (yuck), and it sucks a lot more, as this example shows:

Finding a deeply nested application

Moreover, this will only find apps in the Applications folder. Everything I use in /Developer/Applications, like XCode and Interface Builder, doesn't show up.

At some point, I realized that Tiger has freed me from the tyranny of this wannabe Start Menu. I was searching for something and in the results, which are sorted by type, I noticed "Applications". I realized that it was entirely practical to simply type the first few letters of the app I needed and get to it that way:

Finding GraphicConverter application with Spotlight

In fact, if you use the keyboard equivalent for Spotlight (command-space if you only use one input method, ctrl-space if you use more), you can find your app without taking your hands off the keyboard.

This approach doesn't care about hierarchies -- after all, that's the point of Spotlight -- so finding deeply-nested applications or those outside the Applications folder is equally easy. In fact, that's probably the only significant hazard: if you have multiple OS X partitions (say, for testing purposes), you can get this weird situation where you pick up applications from different partitions:


OK, which one of you Printer Setup Utilities is from Tiger, and which is from Panther?

Still, it's so useful that there's really no need for the Applciations-alias-in-Dock trick anymore. So long, wannabe Start Menu!

Are you launching apps with Spotlight?


2005-08-30 08:50:29
Yes, I do have the Applications folder in my dock, and yes, I do hardly ever use it anymore. But it's not Spotlight that obviated it; it's Butler. I can use abbreviations or acronyms, like GC, instead of "graphic conv." And since it'll focus on "launchable items" (primarily applications, but also bookmarks, etc.), instead of documents, it's much quicker to use for the purpose of an application launcher.

Other programs in this vein include QuickSilver and LaunchBar, but Butler has been my favorite, despite a clunky preferences interface and the slick appearance of QuickSilver.

2005-08-30 09:09:04
I was hoping that Spotlight would obviate my need for Quicksilver, but no such luck. QS is still the best way to launch apps.
2005-08-30 09:30:13
Spotlight? Too slow...
Maybe it's my particular system but if I were to type the name of anything into spotlight, it often slows to a crawl before I can finish or correct what I type. The app folder is often much quicker...
2005-08-30 09:33:59
Re: Spotlight? Too slow...

Interesting point. I'm on a Dual G5, so I'm a little spoiled. Any chance you're on a laptop?

-Chris (invalidname)

2005-08-30 11:12:03
Spotlight? Too slow...
With me it was just a question of RAM. 1.2 GHz iBook, first with 512 MB RAM Spotlight was sooooo slow, then I went to the max, 1.25 GB RAM and everything went fast.
2005-08-30 11:45:37
I've had the same complaint since the day I installed tiger...
I *do* sometimes use spotlight as an app launcher, but it can take 20-30 seconds to find the app in question.

In general, I've found Tiger to be very sluggish and VM intensive on my 1.25 ghz PB. The fact that each widget consumes 100-150 megs of VM and 15-20 megs of real RAM is a big problem.

2005-08-30 13:31:08
I've had the same complaint since the day I installed tiger...
How much memory do you have?
My 1.33ghz PB is much much much faster running Tiger than it ever was running Panther, and even with many apps open I never touch VM.
But I also have 1gb of RAM so I can run Safari. :p


2005-08-30 17:42:43
Check out xmenu.

I use it all the time.

2005-08-30 19:39:27
Lauchbar and Spotlight
I do have an alias to the Applications folder in my Doc, but I mainly depend upon LaunchBar for launching applications.

I did shut down LaunchBar for about two hours after installing Tiger thinking that Spotlight rendered LaunchBar unnecessary. However, I quickly added LaunchBar once again.

Spotlight is great for finding all sorts of information, but it is slow to find an application. Not only that, but typing in "GC" doesn't find GraphicsConverter in Spotlight, but will find it in LaunchBar. LaunchBar is much faster at finding the application and is better if you misspell or abbreviate the application. For example, LaunchBar brings up Microsoft Word if I type in "Word' "MW", "MSword", "MSW", and even "WRD".

I still find the Application Alias helpful since I might not always remember the name of the application I want to launch. Is it Network Info or NetInfo? What's that Application that takes a picture of the screen called? I know it's in Applications/Utilities and it has a picture of scissors on it. (Oh yeah! Grab.)

I find that I use the Application Dock Alias, LaunchBar, and Spotlight for various things.

2005-08-31 00:39:05
Another Quicksilver vote...
As per the above, whilst you *can* use Spotlight for this sort of thing it's not a lot of fun. Quicksilver (/Butler/Launchbar) has it all over Spotlight as an application launcher, and as an application switcher. It's also a whole lot more beautiful!

Leave Spotlight for the heavy lifting (finding every pdf file containing the word "orthogonal" etc etc).

2005-08-31 11:40:50
I just make couple of folder like Application, Development, Internet, Multimedia ... and i put them on the dock like your Applications Folder but i put only the Apps i need inside the good folder. It just a Option Command drag tyhe icon of the app you want on the folder and it make an alias of that folder. Really funny stuff you change your App to a new version and still working normaly (if they have the same name like Firefox but not for Firefox 1.0.4). Really fast no learning curve and it fit your design since you do the folders the way you want to be organize:-)
2005-09-01 00:27:42
To hell with Spotlight,
Just use Quicksilver instead. The only thing I use the Dock for these days is telling me when I get new email. Spotlight is still too slow to bring up results on my Powerbook to be effective as a launcher. With Quicksilver I whack a key, whack another key (maybe three) and I'm off.
2005-09-02 09:24:30
A Better Way?
Make a Smart Folder. Specify that it is the folder Applications, kind is App (and add opened in the last 2 weeks if you wish), and put the Smart folder in the dock, and anywhere else you wish.

This is reasonably quick.

I'm wondering is the 'Find it in 2 seconds' Spotlight thing just a myth. Spotlight can take minutes to find stuff for me sometimes, and I'm running a G5 iMac.

2005-09-05 18:12:10
A Better Way?
Smart Folders act like documents in the Dock, not Folders - therefore, they cannot be right-clicked to list their contents, iirc.
2005-09-05 18:14:38
Still in my Dock
I still keep it in my Dock, but not for launching programs - for adding them. It's still faster to drop an app into it than to to pop-up Macintosh HD -> Applications in the Finder window sidebar.