Quicksilver - Slicker 'n... um... Mercury
I found a program that gives the much-vaunted Spotlight a run for its money--it's called Quicksilver. Yes, I know that's a heck of a claim, but if someone at Apple isn't in talks with this development team, they need to be.
With a fast keystroke combination (default is Control-Space), it brings up an elegant input window, into which a few letters are typed, bringing up a list of matches. It works similarly to Spotlight, in which each successive character refines the list, but Spotlight is primarily a GUI, mouse-based search program, and useful in its own way. However, within 5 minutes of installing Quicksilver, I was ignoring Spotlight altogether. With a couple of keystrokes, I was navigating the labyrinthine depths of my hard drive with aplomb. I have begun to think of this program as the grown-up version of Spotlight, as it's got a very Apple-like style and ease of use. Installation is idiot-proof (evidenced by the fact that it was easy for me the first time), and offers to install various plugins for different applications. It even searches through Safari bookmarks. It is easily customizable, allowing searches through only some directories, limited or open through user-defined limits.
Quicksilver's input pane allows various actions to be executed when a file is found, from merely opening it with the appropriate program, to attaching the file to an email directly, from which point another action pane will search your address book and display recipients' vCards for a 1-click compose-and-attach. Easy.
The preferences are near-infinitely-customizable, allowing for simple adding or subtraction of folders, directories or files, after the initial install scan of the hard drive, which takes surprisingly little time--nowhere near the run the first time Spotlight indexed (that felt like it took forever). Installing plugins is simply done from the preferences pane as well, listing the plugins available and downloading with a click. I installed everything in the initial setup, and the downloads of the various plugins took just a few seconds on a 1.5 Mbit DSL line--your mileage may vary, but it is well within the limits of a dial-up account.
Quicksilver can be somewhat of a memory hog at full throttle, but again, that is customizable through the prefs by turning on or off various graphical niceties, but with everything turned on and flashy, it took up 26MB of real resident memory and topped out at a burst access of 65MB, using a max CPU load of 14% on a dual 1.8 GHz G5 Tower. Response was as close to instant as it gets, even beating the response time of Spotlight. Again, your mileage may vary, but it can be tweaked to run on nearly any recent Mac.
Bottom line: if this isn't a part of your Mac toolkit, it should be, especially considering that it is donation-ware. It is still in a beta development, but this is one of the finest programs I have seen, beta or not. [Britt Godwin]