21 Comments

Summary:

A good program launching application is something I’ll use constantly so having it available with a keystroke is critical. When I made the move to Mac, I immediately started looking for a good launcher, and eventually stumbled across Alfred, a free launcher that’s simple yet powerful.

Alfred - Find

Over the years I’ve grown quite accustomed to using some sort of program launching application, rather than the Start Menu or the Mac Dock. When I was on Windows, I originally used Launchy, before switching to ActiveWords, which handled the program launching tasks admirably. I tend to be very keyboard-centric so find graphical launchers too cumbersome to really be effective. A good launcher is also something I’ll use constantly so having it available with a keystroke is really critical. When I made the move to Mac I immediately started looking for a comparable program, and eventually stumbled across Alfred.

The thing I really like about Alfred is that it provides an interface to everything on my Mac and on the web: I can run programs, search favorite sites, find and browse files. It’s powerful but also very simple. The complexity and advanced functionality is there when I need it but for running something quickly or a fast Google search, that functionality never gets in my way. These layers of functionality are really well implemented. And the app is completely hidden until I call on it.

For example, a shortcut of option+space brings up an empty Alfred window. A couple of letters typed into the window offers me some simple web search options:

Alfred - Search

Even the results are easily accessed with unique key combinations for choosing among them.

If I’m looking for local files a “find” command changes the search:

Alfred - Find

It learns which items I access frequently so they appear in the search results ahead of others. For example, Text Wrangler, my editor of choice, now appears ahead of TextEdit because it is the one that is used more frequently. These little details make the program a joy to use.

I really like the way that I can use Alfred as a window to web searches, especially for frequently searched sites. It’s set up for the biggies like Google, Wikipedia, Amazon and Twitter and such, but I can add other options to the mix as well, like my CRM app.

One of my new favorite features that I just discovered is the ability to search by Spotlight Comments. By using consistent tagging there I can group like applications together by searching by tag. For example, a search for media could display iTunes, Rdio, last.fm and all the various players I have on my system.

Alfred - File NavigationWhile Alfred itself is free, there is the option to add a Powerpack option to it for £12 ($19). The Powerpack adds some great features like direct file system navigation, browsing from within the launcher window and the ability to perform actions on files beyond opening.

The additional features of the Powerpack are handy but even the free version is quite functional and well worth checking out. Alfred is a free download for Mac OS X 10.5+, while the optional Powerpack can be bought at any time through the application or from the web site.

Alfred is the doorway to my Mac. What do you use for launching and searching on your computer?

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  1. No love for Quicksilver? :)

    1. I looked briefly at Quicksilver as it was something that for a long time people raved about. It seems to not be so actively developed though and I am just thrilled with how things are progressing on Alfred.

      sb

  2. I’ve been using Alfred for months now. Wouldn’t dream of using anything else.

    What’s more amazing then anything is that, whenever they ADD features, the application seems to run faster too. Not sure how they do that exactly, but it’s great.

    1. I’m super impressed with the team there – functionality added frequently and performance always good. Thanks!

      sb

  3. Besides Quicksilver, there’s Google Quick Search Box, Butler, and Launchbar, just to start. They can all be disappointing for different reasons. :/ Currently, I’m back to Butler, but it went non-free a while back, and I hate to buy something that I might soon replace with one of the several other options in this arena.

    1. I think I may have been looking for Butler when i found Alfred. Never did get around to testing it as Alfred worked for me.

      I’ve heard good things about The Google Quick Search though.

      sb

      1. Having tried Butler, used Google Quick search for a while and now purchased Alfred, I can tell you that Alfred was the right choice. You’re not missing anything.

        Google Quick search was good but it slowed down alot over time, with updates, to the point that it couldn’t be called a “quick” launcher.

        Butler is a nightmare. It not only looks ugly but is way to complicated. Best leave engineers to use that one.

        Alfred looks beautiful, is incredibly fast, and is power packed. Great new features are coming too(like clipboard history) as this app just keeps getting better.

  4. Am I missing something or what…? What’s wrong with the built-in OS X functionality Spotlight??
    I tried most of the oft-quoted utilities but they all seemed to add an extra layer of software (and the necessary resources) where the native app gets it done fine.
    Please enlighten me!

    1. I’m with you.. I don’t understand it.

    2. Perhaps I didn’t give Spotlight enough of a chance as a new Mac User but I found it unintuitive in how it presented results and how it was necessary to move through an extended list to select or open an item rather than providing shortcut key access.

      Alfred provided the extra functionality that I like to make it even more useful – things like direct navigation of the file system and contextual processing of files – not just opening them.

      If the native app gets it done for you then absolutely another option isn’t necessary – I just found Spotlight sorely lacking when I used it compared to what other options can offer.

      Thanks for the comment.
      sb

  5. I’m still struggling to find why it’s so necessary for so many people to have a different launcher. Other than performing a google search, Spotlight does just about everything I need. It indexes all my files, allows me to launch my apps, etc. I don’t like how big Alfred is either. I’m not sitting on the other side of the room using my computer. I like that Spotlight is just a small, out of the way box.

    1. Hi David,

      If you’re happy with Spotlight and it doing just about everything you need then Alfred or another launcher probably isn’t necessary for you. I like the additional functionality it provides I guess and the interface is much more natural and intuitive to me than Spotlight. The contextual shortcut keys are wicked easy to use when selecting an option in the search results.

      Alfred only appears on the screen when you call it up so it takes as much room as it needs when you’re using it and completely disappears otherwise.

      thanks
      sb

  6. Talking about launchers, i like the idea of the iPhone App “ilaunch”: a bit like optimus keyboard but with an iOS device.

    Like the osx dock but beside your keyboard.
    There is a free version i guess.

    I use it all day long.

  7. Spotlight

  8. I’ve come to use Alfred after trying out Quicksilver and Google Quick Search Box. Alfred works better for me than either of those programs, I’ve been using if for about a year and have no complaints.

  9. If you want a launcher for applications or a tool to find any file on your mac use built-in Spotlight.

    If you’re looking for a tool that allows you to perform a custom search on ANY web you choose, to move/copy/upload/resize/compress your files, to execute terminal commands, to directly send e-mails (even with attachments) without using your e-mail client, etc. then use QuickSilver, which is open source (no paid version now nor never) and actually IS under active development (http://groups.google.com/group/blacktree-quicksilver?pli=1). Alfred just does not fit in here.

    1. This is a post about Alfred and how I use it and why I like it. It works really well for me – I would say it fits perfectly.

      Alfred was simple to configure and to get started with, I found Quicksilver to not be. It seems really powerful if you want to set up and configure triggers and download additional plugins but I didn’t want to put that much in to it. I am able to create custom searches for ANY site I choose really easily in Alfred.

      As some find the Spotlight sufficient with no need to move to a separate program like Alfred, perhaps some find Alfred sufficient without the need to move to something different.

      I have no problem paying for good software that makes my life easier.

      Thanks for the comment, perhaps a more side by side comparison might be useful.

      sb

      1. I agree. Scott, I was thrilled to see you give Alfred the love it deserves. :-) I’ve tried Spotlight, QuickSilver and LaunchBar over the years and Alfred is far and away the best fit for me. It’s super-fast, very light, has a ton of features that are easy to use/configure but not overwhelming. I was more than happy to start paying for it the moment the developer offered a premium version.

    2. Quicksilver is great too, but for me was a little too technical. Perfect for super geeks but a little over the top for us normal guys.

      That’s where Android fits in. It’s search/quicl launch for the rest of us.

  10. I actually use Quicksilver, but I’m trying out Alfred for now. Quicksilver is much more powerful, and free, so I’m just trying out Alfred to see if I like it.

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