Why Slickrun is the best thing in the world, ever

October 23rd, 2006 by shane

Slickrun is my favourite computer program. I know this because its one of the first things I install on a new PC, and if I am using a PC with it not installed I get increasing annoyed every time I hit my chosen shortcut key (Ctrl-Z, as quick as they come) and nothing happens. Its part of my motor memory. It is as integral to my computer experience as using a mouse.

There are two main ways that people interface with computers – the command line, and the GUI. The GUI overthrew the command line because it was much easier to learn, and more intuitive. The command line still lives on, especially for geeks, because it is normally quicker than using a GUI for the advanced user. Keyboard shortcuts are intermediary solution. Shortcuts save time. When using a computer all day, like typing a word document, every trip to pick up the mouse takes time and disrupts the flow of your keyboard. Take Ctrl- C for example, which I use constantly. This shortcut is easy to remember because there is an non arbitrary link between the shortcut and what it does – in this case the mnemonic link between C and its function, Copy. But its even more useful because it is program (and platform) independent. Whatever you are doing, and whether working with files or text, I can use this shortcut. However, a lot of shortcuts either are arbitrarily linked to their function, (hold down ctrl,alt,shift and F5…) and specific to a particular program . What is even worse is that different programs will have different shortcuts for the same function, and either you can’t change the shortcut key or its non trivial to do so.

This is where Slickrun comes in. It offers a new way to interact with a computer. In some ways it mirrors one of the idea’s behind Archy - the notion of context independent commands. Development behind Archy seems to have stopped, but it was a great idea in principle.

In Slickrun, you create “MAGICWORDS”. For example, to open Word, you just hit the slickrun shortcut key and type “word”, hit enter, and MS word loads (you can often just type “w”, “wo” as it remembers and autocompletes previously used commands). The advantage of this is that the command is easy to remember, unlike a multitude of shortcut keys. The command is also user definable, so you have the control to create commands that are meaningful to you. You can link to programs, files and folders. I now have my desktop set to hide desktop icons, because I don’t need them anymore.

You can also pass parameters to programs, For example, I can type “mail john briggs” and a new mail gets opened up with john briggs in the TO field. Or I can type “contact john briggs” to open up my John Briggs contact. Or I can type “locate expenses” to search my computer for files with expenses in the title. Or I type “call [telnumber] to launch skype and call the specified telephone number.

It allows access to the RUN commands, for example, type iexplore and internet explorer loads. This also allows access to the filesystem via auto complete – typing c:\p [tab] sl [enter] takes me to the slickrun (c:\program files\slickrun) folder, as it autcompletes program files from “p” and slickrun from “sl”.

It has a globally accessible JOTPAD, a notepad with autosave, which appears when you press a shortcut key.

Slickrun on the internet

All these features are great. But what really makes Slickrun indispensable is its ability to launch websites, and pass parameters to websites. My most common use of slickrun is to do google searches. I type G (or GOOGLE) and paste or type my search term, and it will automatically launch a new tab in the foreground of my browser with that search term in. It is like having an additional sense. Some websites I commonly use with slickrun are at the bottom of this post.

It is also very useful for the google lucky command which I describe in this post:

Slickrun for academics

The specific use for academics is the ease of which slickrun provides to searches. As an academic, I have setup several links to search academic databases. For example, I have a JOURNAL magic word to search my library’s collection of online journals, and TITLE to search the titles (via an institutional link to OVID) of articles via that database. When I see a reference in a pdf or website that I want to check out, I copy the text of the title, bring up slickrun, type GS [ctrl-v to paste the text] and enter, and it performs a google scholar search for that paper.

Alternatives to Slickrun

Slickrun is freeware and windows only. It’s a small download, instant to run and takes little resources. If you are on a MAC, try Quicksilver, which has also has an evangeical following.

There is a commerical Slickrun like called ActiveWords. See this website for a description of what it can do, which encompasses much of the same functionality of Slickrun, so can give you further ideas of how to use Slickrun.

I tried it briefly and prefer Slickrun, it’s a small compact (and FREE!) app which takes up very little resources, and its very easy to use, and customise. The features that Slickrun doesn’t have in comparison with ActiveWords can be emulated, such as the scripting with AutoHotKey, and features like universal autocorrect and spellcheck can be mirrored with other freeware programs.

Yubnub, “the commandline for the internet” is a very similar idea to slickrun. It’s a great idea, but I prefer day to day use of Slickrun as it gives me control of my computer not just the web, and its easier to add and manage new commands with Slickrun.

There is another strand of programs which use the keyboard to launch programs, like quicksilver, such as google desktop search, approcket, colibri and the new Vista Start menu. These work by indexing your file system, and then doing a search as you type – e.g. you type “wo” it brings up all files and folders beginning with “wo”, such as your shortcut to launching MS word, which you can then choose or select with the arrow keys. I sometimes wish that Slickrun could do this also. The advantage is that you don’t have to setup commands to lauch files or programs in advance. However, it would slow down the program, gives you less control and takes up extra system resources, and I think the designer is intent and keeping the application swift and elegant. Locate32 is a fast free app that does the same thing that one of our bloggers Jose  highly recommends.

Sample Slickrun commands

I will attach a selection of commands that I think people would find useful, which are a mixture of web searches and local system applications. Included are some really useful commands if are a MS Outlook user, such as to create tasks, mails, contacts and appointments, or to open existing ones. Some you might need to tweak them with the directory your outlook is running from depending on your version. Here is a selection:

g $ google – invaluable. Has become like another sensory system. Setup in slickrun as a default

gl $ – google lucky

wiki $ – wikipedia

metacritic $ – great for film reviews

Amazon $ and amacom $ – searches the uk and us sites respectively

allmusic $ – amazing music database

ebay $ – searches ebay. Who needs the high steet.

gb – google blog search

gmaps $ – searches google maps for a location

gmails $- searches gmail from the command line – which of course you can add switches to (e.g. label:sent will search sent items)

gapp $ – creates a google calendar entry (which you can modify) using quick add – e.g. “lunch at 12pm for 2 hours next wednesday”

gcomp – creates an new google mail

d $ – uses onelook meta dictionary search. prefacing search term with *: gives a thesauus ability. Use this a spell checker.

hunt $ – seaches isohunt torrent metasearch engine

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14 Responses to “Why Slickrun is the best thing in the world, ever”

  1. Jonathan AquinoNo Gravatar Says:

    Hey there – I combine SlickRun with YubNub using the following MagicWord: http://yubnub.org/parser/parse?command=$w$

    Also a couple of other good productivity tools:
    • AutoHotKey, for expanding text. For example, I used “–[tab]” to create “–” above, and “bullet[tab]” to create “•” on the left
    • the Getting Things Done methodology

  2. Buzz BruggemanNo Gravatar Says:

    Some time…lets talk, and let me show you some things about ActiveWords that might not be apparent. I think we have done a lot more than Slickrun, and at the end of the day, the amount of time we same you will more than exceed our cost.

    Ping me when you have time to talk..


  3. SilviaNo Gravatar Says:

    You are right: it is one of my favourites now.Thanks.

  4. SkubmmiNo Gravatar Says:

    I’ve been using slickrun since one year, and it became on of my list of basic tools to run into my laptop.
    Another very essential tool is NEO, which I recommend to all of you.

  5. Todd StanfieldNo Gravatar Says:

    Thanks for the tip. Love Slickrun and love your blog. Keep it up.

  6. darioNo Gravatar Says:

    a friend pointed me to Quicksilver, the Mac OS brother of Slickrun—which reminded me having read about it in your post. The double recommendation convinced me to give it a try it so this evening I installed it and started playing with it. Result: I just can’t imagine having spent years of work on a computer without using a tool like this. Possibly the smartest productivity invention after the shell :) Great tip, thanks!

    Mac OS users may want to take a look at the list of extraordinary tutorials on how to make the most out of Quicksilver.

  7. ShaneNo Gravatar Says:

    I reckon we are going to see a resurgence in command line user interfaces. I am not the only one:


  8. MartinNo Gravatar Says:

    Very interesting post! I’am also using slickrun for some weeks now and I would not know how to do without it. I was searching for something like the unbeaten Quicksilver I have on my PowerBook. Quicksilver is much more powerful, but SlickRun is also extremely useful.

    To add some ideas: As I often have translate from german to english or french (or vice vers), I also created magic words “den” (german english) and “defr” to access directly my favorite dictionary sites http://dict-tu.chemnitz.de and http://www.leo.org (for french) and look up the word I was typing after the magic word.
    So typing “den gargantual” opens a firefox tab which gives me the english translation. That’s great.

    However, a feature I miss in SlickRun (which I love in Quicksilver) is very fast navigation in my file system. In SlickRun I have to enter the file path. Sure, you can create magic words for often used directories (I did that also), but to find the word file I’ve edited one hour ago that is not an option and even with the automatic completion of paths in SlickRun I think it’s too slow.
    Rock-It-Launcher did that, but then I found the free app Launchy (www.launchy.net) which can do that even better:
    It creates an index of directories the user can choose. This index is updated every 20 minutes.
    You can type fragments of the file or path name and launchy lists the corresponding files so you can choose the one you want to open really fast. (Works also for directories, if the search term “.dir” is entered in the setup).

    So as there seems to be no free app for windows doing all that at once (I love Quicksilver!!!) I’m using both SlickRun and Launchy – each one for its strengths.

  9. MartinNo Gravatar Says:

    Damn! Just had been typing a long comment but it got lost while I tried to send it. :-(
    So again (this time a little shorter):

    I first was using Quicksilver on my PowerBook and LOVE IT! It saves me that much time each day, each hour, each second… ;-) it’s just great and there are plugins for nearly everything you can imagine.

    Searching for a (free) alternative for windows I found SlickRun some weeks ago.
    SlickRun is great, I would not know how to do without it any more.
    As an addition to your interesting remarks another useful application: Translation to other languages.
    I created magic words “den” and “defr” which search for the word which follows them in online dictionaries like http://www.leo.org or dict.tu-chemnitz.de, so I can get very quickly a firefox tab with possible translations of those words! Great thing and saves a lot of time!!

    Accessing files in SlickRun is not that easy, I think. I created magic words for often used folders, but to find the word file I just created one hour ago there is no magic word and typing the whole path is a pain, even with the auto-completion features of SlickRun.

    So for all those who feel that too, I recommend Launchy (www.launchy.net). It’s also free and (as Quicksilver) it indexes folders of your choise (and rebuilds the index regularly, e. g. every 20 mins).
    You can type fragments of a file name or folder name and get a list of hits where you can choose the one you’re searching or type more characters to get a smaller list of hits.
    It’s great, I’m using both SlickRun AND Launchy – each one according to its particular strengths and it saves me a lot of time!


  10. Academic Productivity » Quicker references with Google Scholar Says:

    [...] is enhanced for me with other tools that make instant search easier. I use a keyboard launcher, Slickrun, which means I can execute searches from a command line accessible via a hotkey. Other keyboard [...]

  11. CatherineNo Gravatar Says:

    Hello, I am new to slickrun and the cmd interface was just wondering how you set up the parameters for:

    gmails $- searches gmail from the command line – which of course you can add switches to (e.g. label:sent will search sent items)


    gapp $ – creates a google calendar entry (which you can modify) using quick add – e.g. “lunch at 12pm for 2 hours next wednesday”

    also call [telnumber] to launch skype and “locate expenses” to search my computer for files with expenses in the title would be really useful.


  12. shane Says:


    Here are a couple:


    If skype is your default phone application on your computer, this should work:


  13. Fanna AtickNo Gravatar Says:

    Tried Executor, Launchy, ActiveWords, SlickRun, & a bunch more. SlickRun is the only one I kept.

    Wish that it would index and run programs like the others, but I can live without it. Live without SlickRun? Nah. Yep. It is THAT useful

  14. Academic Productivity » Prise these programs away from my cold, dead hands Says:

    [...] have talked about my love of Slickrun here. I have tried other, more fully featured programs, like Ubiquity in Firefox, but the simplicity and [...]

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