10 Days, 10 Apps: Alfred

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Over the course of the next 10 days, I’m going to share 10 apps that I use every day on my Mac that make the experience more enjoyable or more productive. I get asked this question regularly, so I thought I’d write a series of short blog posts.

Today’s app is one that stays out of the way until you need it, and then springs into action and helps you do a plethora of tasks in a a few very short keystrokes. Introducing your Mac’s persional butler: Alfred.

Alfred Main Window

Alfred, at it’s most basic functionality, is a keyboard-driven application launcher not unlike Apple’s Spotlight technology which comes with every Mac (in fact, Alfred leverages your Mac’s Spotlight database to help it find things). However, once you start digging in just a little bit, you start to see what a powerful piece of software Andrew Pepperrell et. al. have put together.

More Than A Launcher

The first natural extension is the ability to perform actions on found items. For example, if I type in Safari, I have two options:

  1. Hit enter and launch Safari.
  2. Hit and be amazed.

Some of the default actions that can be performed after hitting the right arrow are:

  • Show Package Contents
  • Open With…
  • Open
  • Reveal in Finder
  • Browser Folder in Alfred
  • Search in Finder
  • Email to…
  • Email
  • Copy to…
  • Move to…
  • Get Info
  • Delete
  • Open Terminal here
  • Copy path to clipboard

Simply typing in the first few characters will whittle down the list to show you the relevant actions. If you precede your search for an item with find, Alfred will look for files or folders in addition to your applications. This quickly makes it very easy to do things like find a document you want to e-mail to somebody, and quickly compose an e-mail to that person with the file attached, all from within Alfred. I often find files and use the Open with… command to open them with my application of choice at the time.

But There’s More!

What happens if you type something that doesn’t have a match on your computer? Alfred kindly offers to search Google for the term. Which brings me to the first great extra feature of Alfred: web searches.

Alfred Web Searches

If you start off by typing in a keyword followed by a space, Alfred can search for whatever you’d like on whatever site you’d like. It has several built in, such as Google, Twitter, Wikipedia, and Amazon. For example, if I wanted to search for an address in Google Maps, I could simply type this into Alfred:

maps 123 Main St., Winnipeg, MB

This opens up Google Maps and searches for that address. You can also add your own custom searches, which is simply a great feature. I’ve added custom searches for Rotten Tomatpes, Metacritic, Ultimate Guitar, iTunes, iMDB, and more! Alfred can also understand when you type a URL into it and take you straight to that page.

But that’s still just the tip of the iceberg. Fair warning: many features here are part of the Powerpack, which is a paid addition to Alfred. More information on the Powerpack is at the bottom of this post.

Alfred can also do calculations, define words, create e-mails, allow you to find people in your address book and view their details, control iTunes through a great miniplayer, keep a clipboard history, and as of v1.2, integrate itself into 1Password.

And that’ s not all! You can also sleep, turn off, or restart your computer. Empty the trash. Eject discs. Quit applications. Navigate your file system. Run terminal commands. Alfred allows you to define system-wide hotkeys to access applications, paths and URLs. Because of Alfred, I can open iTunes no matter what I’m doing by pressing Ctrl + Opt + Command + I, I can open Steam by pressing Ctrl + Opt + Command + G and I can open my Downloads folder by pressing Ctrl + Opt + Command + D. These are shortcuts I’ve defined myself, and you can choose almost anything you’d like to open almost anything you can think of.

Alfred also has a deep extension system which allows you to add functionality to it (as if there wasn’t enough there already). A few of the extensions I’ve installed allow me to:

  • Kill applications
  • Upload a file to CloudApp
  • Grab Lorem Ipsum text
  • Convert currency
  • Convert color codes from hex to rgb and vice versa
  • Create Reminders that sync to my iPhone
  • Add entries to Fantastical
  • Redeem iTunes promo codes
  • Rate iTunes songs
  • Put my display to sleep

There’s a whole host of them out there; if you click through on the link above you can peruse how much extensions can add to Alfred.

In Conclusion…

That’s all I have to say about Alfred for now. I feel like a rundown of what it can do is a review in itself. Alfred packs a ton of features, is lightweight, won’t slow your computer down, and allows you to accomplish what would take a whole lot of mouse clicks from one simple little box. Alfred helps me zip around my computer’s applications and files unlike anything else, and it’s wide array of features has made it an indespensible part of my workflow. The dedication to making it easy to use, to having a tiny memory footprint, and to a great design make it a showcase for how OS X has some applications that are unparalleled in their ease of use, power, and ability to stay out of your way and help you get the job done.

Alfred is available for free at http://www.alfredapp.com or on the Mac App Store. Several features are only available in the Powerpack, which can only be activated in the version from Alfred’s web site. The Powerpack is a £15 addition that’s worth it’s weight in gold. An overview of Powerpack-exclusive features is available here.

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