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:
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:
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.
While 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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