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A beginner's guide to configuring Butler Apps
A Beginner's Guide to Configuring Butler to Maximize Productivity and Minimize Time Spent Futzing

Firstly – thanks to Han Solo for the title! This is my first post here and its come about from reading a few threads about launchers (Another Launcher, which is now called Butler, in particular) and there seems to be quite a few people who are missing out because they initially find Butler too complicated. I admit this was my initial thought on the software, but I could see it had enormous potential so I sat down and read all the FAQs and quickstarts and things. I consider myself pretty familiar with it now, and I will simplify the basics of this great app for you.

[robg adds: Butler has become, by far, my "must have" application on any Mac I use. I know others feel similarly about QuickSilver and LaunchBar -- it seems launchers and utility tools inspire amazing owner loyalty, and getting someone to switch or admit faults in their chosen launcher is quite difficult! With that said, I will admit that Butler's configuration is intimidating, but once you get past that, this application can do nearly anything. I'm working on a full Butler write-up that will go into even more detail than what you see here, but the following is a great overview on how to use some of Butler's key features.]

The first thing you will notice after installing Butler is that your menu bar has been populated by three new tools. Two icons and a Google search text field. Dont worry, these can all be easily removed if you wish. If you click on the little iMac icon you should see a menu called Butler; select this and then select Preferences. Butler's preferences window will open. You can configure everything to do with Butler from this window. You will see there are four large icons at the top of the window. I will work through this from left to right. Click on About/Help on the left. This page contains links to the other panels of this window, as well as a Donate link.

Now click on the Configuration button at the top, or click on the Customize my Configuration button. This brings up the page where you can organize and set up all the menu bar icons and contents. There is a top-level Container for each of the three items currently in your menu bar, as well as a Container called Invisible items, which, surprisingly enough, is not in the menu bar. The procedure is the same for all of these top-level containers. You can add or remove them, or items within them, and change orders and hierarchies by drag-and-drop. If you click on the small + icon in the bottom left hand corner, you will see a list of all the things you can add. They are all pretty self explanatory and worth a bit of trial and error to see what they do.

The first thing I did was to get rid of the Google search from the menubar and place it in the invisible items folder. If you add a keyboard shortcut to it you can summon up the Google search with a keyboard command, enter your query, hit enter and Butler will launch your default browser and run the search. This is incredibly useful as it has the functionally of the global search in the menu bar but without it cluttering up the place when its not needed. Moreover, though, you can have as many different Web Search Smart Items as you like, all with different keyboard shortcuts and all with different sites. For example you can easily set up a Google UK search. More on this later.

The other main thing I wanted in the Invisible items container was iTunes control. You can add more Smart Items by clicking the little + icon in the bottom left hand corner and select Smart Item. Then you can add as many of the iTunes features as you like. I have all the rating controls as well as track control; I use my system volume keys so I don't need the iTunes volume control. You can set keyboard shortcuts for anything you put in the menus, invisible or not. You can also set a screen corner to activate things, using right or left mouse button and any combination of keyboard modifiers, so you are not limited to four shortcuts. I wont dwell on the menu configuration too much as there is more to explain.

If you click on the Engines button at the top, you will enter the page where you can configure all the search engines that can be used with the Web Search smart items. You will see there are already quite a few pre-installed, some in folders and the Google ones at the top by default. This hierarchy corresponds the drop down menu under the search field in any of the Web Search smart items. To add a search engine, just select Search Engine from the + menu at the bottom left. To configure it, you need to find out the string before and after the search terms that the search engine, or other site, uses. Do this by going to the site and searching for anything, then on the results page copy the text to the left of your search query. Then in Butler paste it into the left-hand Address field for the engine you have created and selected. Then copy the text from the right of your query and paste it into the right-hand field in Butler.

Finally, we will look at the Preferences page in Butler preferences. You will see several Categories in a window on the left and the Options on the right. The Options for Butler are all fairly self explanatory and trial and error will be the best way to see what they do. You can have the most fun with the Appearance category. You can independently change the colors, radius, transparency, etc. for the Web search floaters, Status floater (which is what the iTunes info is displayed in) as well and the Abbreviations window.

When you select Edit Layout from these, you will see a common structure which is used to configure the floaters. The four Radius sliders adjust the radius of the corners of the floaters. The Margin sliders adjust how much empty margin surrounds the contents of the floaters. These sliders all correspond to their position in this window. In the middle you can select the colors for the background and the foreground (text) depending on which one you are adjusting. You will notice that you can select an opacity value for the color you choose from the color pallet. This is not the same as the Transparency slider at the bottom of the window. The Transparency slider controls the transparency of the window content itself, for example, album artwork in the status window or the window in the Abbreviations window. The color transparency value is what adjusts the opacity of the backgrounds or the text. Again, trial and error is the best way to see what happens here.

So that's the configuration dealt with. Now onto some of the features of Butler when it's in use. You can drag files onto the Butler icon in the menubar (or docklet). Once you let go, a floater will display to remind you of what you have dropped there. Then you can navigate the Volumes menu to find a new location for whatever you have dropped on the icon. You can choose from Move or Copy from the top of each directory's sub-menu. If you navigate to an application, you can select that to open whatever you dropped with that application. You can also apparently force a file to open in a non-enabled application by holding Option-Command when you drop the file on the icon, but I cannot see any difference when I do this. Maybe someone can add to this.

Butler is also very good at organizing bookmarks or shortcuts to files. In the Editing Category of the Butler Preferences, you can specify a Drag & Drop Active Corner. This means when you drag any HTML link to this corner, the Butler Configuration panel opens and you can specify a location in the menu hierarchy for the shortcut. Its not just links that you can do this with, files and applications work, too. And remember you can set keyboard shortcuts for anything, so you can use keyboard shortcuts to launch your favorite application or file or bookmark.

Ok, next up, the Abbreviation window. You will see this in the Invisible Items folder of the menu configuration. By default the keyboard shortcut to bring it up is Control-Space. When you summon it with the keyboard shortcut, you can immediately start typing and you will see a shortening list of results, getting more refined as you type more letters. However, if you are thinking ahead you will only type three or four letters and then select the item you are after by using the up and down arrow keys or clicking on it. Then press Enter, and Butler has remembered those letters as an abbreviation for the item you selected. Next time when you type those letters, you can just press Enter to launch it straight away -- this is why it's best to use fewer letters. If you make a mistake or want to simplify your abbreviations, just type in a new string and select the item again; hitting Enter will make it come up first next time.

You can also see the list of abbreviations in the Configuration panel under the Abbreviations folder in the Invisible Items folder. Butler searches all the Local Folders you have added to the menu configuration as well as the specified locations for Applications in the Preferences window. Butler only looks three levels into any directory and does not search the Volumes' contents. You can add a folder for Butler to look in when searching for Abbreviations by adding a File in the Configuration panel. Instead of selecting a file, just select a folder. Make sure you check Search contents for abbreviations in the section to the right of the configurations window when the item is selected. You will need to select Update from the Butler menu for the Abbreviations search to bring up results from your newly added location(s).

Butler has many more features that I cannot mention here because I would be all day, but read the Read Me file for more information. I hope the information I have written here will give people a good grasp of how Butler works if they are using it for the first time. It was the first launcher type program I tried and it will probably be the last! I have since tried LaunchBar and Quicksilver. I couldn't work out how to get the bar to display or configure any keyboard shortcuts with LaunchBar, so I didn't use that for long. If someone can point me in the right direction I might look at it again but I don't think it has as many features as Butler. Quicksilver is such a stunning app, the graphics and animation of the Command window are truly wonderful, and it has several different display options including a Bezel mode, but I cant see that it has keyboard shortcuts for things like iTunes control or hierarchical menus, so I'm still using Butler. I still have Quicksilver running to just use it once in a while because its so stylish!

I someone finds this information useful, I know I could have done with it when I first used it!
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A beginner's guide to configuring Butler
Authored by: Han Solo on Apr 26, '04 11:37:01AM
Well, I'm glad I could be so inspirational! ;) Now all I need is the time to sit down and read all you've written.... Soon, I hope.

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A beginner's guide to configuring Butler
Authored by: c8h10n4o2 on Apr 26, '04 12:43:06PM

This is a great little write-up. I recently took the plunge with Butler (my first app launcher) and agree that it can be intimidating at first. Although I have been using for a month or so, and love it, this write up revealed some new things that I was not aware of.

Many thanks for your work.

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A beginner's guide to configuring Butler
Authored by: poocat on Apr 26, '04 12:54:41PM

i mean, i hear all your "free" chants, but i just wanted to let everyone know that launchbar does all these things (or almost all) with almost no configuration.

couldn't activate the bar? command space, my friend, command space.
couldn't navigate? left arrow, right arrow.

i've tried them all. launchbar is simpler and more effective. quicksilver is pretty, butler is flexible. i want intuitive speed and minimal thought. for that i take launchbar.

just some jiao for my thoughts. china will do strange things to your brain too.


"Not wealthy, not weeping."
-Robert A. Heinlein, the moon is a harsh mistress

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A beginner's guide to configuring Butler
Authored by: Tovarizzle on Apr 26, '04 03:33:09PM

I've tried Butler and Quicksilver, but in the end I've settled with Launchbar, with Quicksilver a close second. When using Synergy to control iTunes, the advantages of Butler seem less still. However, I acknowledge the pros and cons of all the options (I would kill for Quicksilver's syntax-based method for opening files with X, etc).

It's all a matter of preference. Is anybody planning on making a similar getting started guide with LaunchBar? Does one exist?


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A beginner's guide to configuring Butler
Authored by: afried on Apr 26, '04 01:53:13PM

Great hint, thanks.
One thing to add is that you can also open files with whatever application you choose by dropping them into the Butler menu.

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A beginner's guide to configuring Butler
Authored by: benvallack on Apr 27, '04 09:42:39AM

Doh! yeah meant to include that!

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A beginner's guide to configuring Butler
Authored by: sfodden on Apr 26, '04 03:54:26PM

I was a LaunchBar user but recently switched to Quicksilver -- probably for no good reason other than the need to stir things up. What I'd really like is a thorough point-by-point comparison of Butler, LaunchBar and Quicksilver, so that I could settle on one that meets my needs. Anyone got spare time on their hands?

Simon F.

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A beginner's guide to configuring Butler
Authored by: Tovarizzle on Apr 26, '04 06:59:12PM

Perhaps a thread should be started in the forums with a good, healthy pro-con debate on each, and plenty of good hints for the users of each program. I'd certainly contribute what I've found out with LaunchBar, and I'd love to hear about some things I might be missing with some of the others.

Let the Better Browser Battle (Paging Dr. Seuss :-p)

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Butler, Launchbar, Quicksilver
Authored by: William McCallum on Apr 26, '04 08:35:16PM

All of these programs are good at what they try to do, but there are two completely different approaches here: organize or search. The organize approach is to arrange the things you want (files, folders, applications, iTunes controls, bookmarks, emails, etc.) in some hierarchical way and provide efficient access to the hierarchy. Butler does this brilliantly. The search approach relies on powerful search functions to avoid the need to categorize things. Launchbar and Quicksilver do this brilliantly.

Launchbard and Quicksilver don't even try to do all the menu and hotkey stuff that Butler does, so obviously they don't do it as well. Butler does add a limited search functionality, with the command space-bar window, but it is not even close to the other two in speed, depth, and flexibility.

There are small differences in what these programs do for you but the main difference is in how they do it.

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A beginner's guide to configuring Butler
Authored by: mathewlu on Jun 19, '04 02:18:52PM

I find myself using Butler and Quicksilver together. Butler replaces a couple of other discrete apps (iMote and Youpi Key) which I used for iTunes control and text macros respectively. However, I don't think I'll use Butler in preference to Quicksilver as a launcher, simply because the bezel mode of QS is so darn beautiful! I don't think there is any reason to choose; just use both or all three.


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A beginner's guide to configuring Butler
Authored by: mathewlu on Jun 19, '04 02:23:06PM
I forgot to mention that MacDevCenter already has an article comparing some of the features of these launchers:


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