Jennie’s fiancée Jon deserves credit for turned me onto a little app called LaunchBar which really must be seen to be believed. You’d think that the last thing anyone needs is another application launching utility, but you’d be wrong. I’ve only just started using LaunchBar so my opinion here is not fully formed, but I’m inclined to say that LaunchBar is the best utility I’ve seen in years.

An example: I’m typing this in TextEdit. Let’s say I want to launch iCal. How quickly can you do this? Standard Mac user answer: Depends on how crowded my dock is. I’m going take my hands off the keyboard, grab the mouse, put the cursor at over the dock (if it’s hidden), and read the pop-up text to see which icon is iCal then click it. If I have a bunch of icons it will take longer. If I have a lot of things open it will take longer too, since every new open item slides the icon positioning of permanent dock icons (because, fundamentally, the dock is one huge design-flaw).

If I’m using another launch utility like DragThing, I can get iCal going a touch faster. If I’m on 10.3, I’ll Exposé all open windows (typically through a hot-corner but maybe through F9), select DragThing, click the appropriate tab, and select the iCal icon (hovering to read the pop-up text as necessary). This is usually faster than the dock only because icons remain in the locations you put them so that you can use muscle memory to speed the process over time.

Friends, LaunchBar kicks the crap out of both of these techniques. With LaunchBar I can launch iCal in less than a second. If you’re not a touch typist maybe it will take slightly longer. Either way, LaunchBar is significantly faster. And I’m not just talking about iCal. I can launch any application, go to any web site, play any song in iTunes, and retrieve virtually any document in under 5 seconds. The thing is trainable, too, so it learns your preferences as you use it (which means it improves over time) and configurable so that if you’ve got quirky ideas, LaunchBar will deal.

Here’s how it works: LaunchBar operates as a background application. You press Command + Spacebar to activate it. LB jumps to the forefront and you -gasp- type the first few letters of whatever it is you’re looking for. In the case of iCal, LB originally selected a different file or applications when I typed the “iCal” so I had to use the arrow keys to scroll down a list and select iCal as the appropriate choice. Since then, I’ve needed only type “ic” and iCal pops up first in the list. I press return and it’s launched. All in less than 1 second.

Check it out for free, and see if you agree with me that this is a utility well-worth the $20 asking price.