by Marcel Dufresne
April 12, 2021
Butler is an application that makes it easier to perform a variety of functions on your Mac. Applications like Butler provide a series of everyday tasks that can be initiated by various triggers. In simple terms, to use Butler, just place tasks in the correct configuration window and assign one or more triggers to each of them. As such, it can be used as a launcher, an iTunes controller, multiple clipboards, and a lot more. Read on to find out how Butler could be used to save you time.
When you first start Butler, the window that appears has three icons at the top as well as the info icon. The first icon on the left is called ‘Configuration’. This is the area that contains most of the tasks as well as the triggers. The next icon, ‘Search Engine’, is used to configure web searches. The last icon is the application’s ‘Preferences’.
There are three main folders that the Configuration window controls. Any task stored in the Hidden section will be triggered through hotkey combinations, abbreviations or hot corners. The tasks in the Menu Bar region will appear as separate icons in your menu bar. This includes not only apps but also files or folders. The folders accordion down so you can choose exactly which one you want to access. The Butler icon in the menu bar initially provides access to ten folders which include items such as System Preferences, all your applications, your documents folder, etc. The Docklet region furnishes access to apps and folders in the form of an array of very small icons along one side of your desktop. The eight possible locations of the array include the top and bottom of the screen. Any item in the menu bar and docklet can also be triggered by the same options as the hidden items.
The next few paragraphs are meant to explain, in a little more detail, the available triggers. The first type of trigger is the menu bar icon or the docklet. The docklet can be visible at all times, in front of any other open window, and always providing access. The menu bar icons can be placed anywhere you want among the other system icons.
The second trigger is called abbreviation. When you tap ctrl-space, the Butler search window opens up. You can type the name of what you are looking for or just the abbreviation you have given it. Butler will do a quick system-wide spotlight-like search of the term you typed in. For example, you can enter “qt” to launch QuickTime Player. Of course, the abbreviated item will be at the top of the list. Butler will learn from your habits and remember what you want a certain abbreviation to do. This is where the launcher part of Butler is at its best. The more you use Butler to open up an item, the higher it moves up on the list. Butler learns with each application.
Hotkey combinations can be used as a shortcut to trigger opening apps, files, or folders. The hot corner is amazingly versatile. You can assign either the left or right mouse button along with, if you choose, one of four hotkeys in combination with the mouse click. This flexibility means that the trigger is almost never accidentally initiated.
The list of possible tasks available to Butler includes the ability to launch applications, open files, access preference panes, manage bookmarks, search the web, run AppleScripts, extend the clipboard, enter text snippets, simulate keystrokes, and control iTunes.
In its launcher role, Butler works just like other launcher apps. Press a hokey (Control-Space by default), and the input box appears, ready for you to type in. As you type, matches are quickly displayed. Hit Return when the one you want is highlighted. The small icons on the right of the highlighted entry indicate what action Butler will take when you press Return. The default is to open the selected item, but you can choose to either Show in Finder or copy instead. And since Butler will handle files, folders, System Preferences panels, and even your iTunes collection, everything on your machine is at your disposal.
Butler includes a wide selection of iTunes’ controls for everything from song ratings to info to volume. And since you can assign a hot key to anything in Butler, it’s easy to build an iTunes controller suite that can be used anytime and anywhere.
The Search Engine part of Butler offers you a way to initiate your bookmarks without depending on a certain browser. You can assign which browser to use with each bookmark you list. And, in contrast to a browser’s bookmark collection, the tool’s bookmarks are always accessible through its system-wide menus, hotkeys, etc. Another great search engine feature is the ability to send search strings to various Web sites. Butler comes with many different pre-defined searches for sites, including Google, Yahoo, and Amazon. If one of your go-to sites isn’t included, you can easily add it. Once you have a search engine defined, you can put it in the Butler menu, directly in the menu bar as a search box, in the Docklet, or assign it to a hotkey usable from anywhere.
A nice feature that Butler adds is the ability to save multiple clipboard entries. Apple only allows one at a time to be saved. Butler will create a stack of the last few saved items from which you can choose which one you want to be copied. The size of the stack can be configured from the Preferences.
Another feature of Butler is the ability to easily create a pop-up menu. Drag a folder into Butler’s window, define a hotkey for the container that holds the folder, and then change the pop-up menu below the Hot Key definition to read “Opens a menu near the mouse.” Now you’ve got a folder you can reach via a navigable pop-up menu at the press of a hotkey.
Every time I use Butler I think of something else I could do with it. It is not the simplest launcher application I have tested. There is a definite learning curve that you have to overcome before you can use it to the fullest. The help menu is adequate but could be better. In fact, the descriptions and screenshots are for an earlier version. It is usable right out of the box, but to get the most out of Butler, you’ll want to spend some time learning how its interface works.
Butler allows you to create custom menus, shortcuts, and abbreviations for your Mac’s desktop that speed up how you use your computer. From adding search interfaces to the menu bar to creating shortcuts that actually learn as you use your machine, Butler’s goal is to make your Mac easier for you to use. Even after a few weeks of usage, I’m still coming up with new things to try. It may not be for everyone, given the learning curve, but if you persevere playing with it, it is well worth the time investment. Download the free trial of Butler from the Many Tricks Website and experiment a bit with it. I am sure you will decide that the $20 registration fee is well worth it. Butler is a must-try for anyone who wants to be more efficient on their Mac.