Many of you reading this blog will know that I am a die hard Mac user, and have been using a Mac in some form or another for many many years now. The first thing which you notice when you start using a Mac is the thing at the bottom of the desktop entitled the dock, a place where you can keep your most used applications and open them quickly as and when they are needed.
However as time goes by, and you get used to keeping your hands on the keyboard, taking them off to use the mouse to open an application or perform other tasks seems such an effort – I know a typical first world problem!
When I got my first Mac, downloaded Quicksilver an application launcher that did just what I wanted, it allowed me to access applications quickly and without having to use the mouse.
Application launchers work by activating them with a key combination (for example mine is alt + spacebar) which when pressed open up a dialogue box, you can then begin typing an application’s name, hit enter and thats it, the application opens.
What more could you want from an application such as Quicksilver? It was free and did what I wanted it to do, well that was until a new kid came to the block, one developed by a company called Objective Development, entitled ‘LaunchBar‘.
LaunchBar unlike Quicksilver was a paid for application, which once tax had been added cost around £25. But it had features that Quicksilver didn’t. You could manipulate files, call up OSX services, and browse your iTunes library all from the dialogue box. Not to mention as it was a paid for application, updates were likely to continue to improve functionality, something which Quicksilver had been lacking for some time.
I therefore set about using LaunchBar, and up until a few weeks ago it did what I wanted, it launched applications quickly, the calculator function was a dream but that was all I really used it for. Sadly development slowed down for LaunchBar with only bug fixes being released, and although you could launch OSX services from LaunchBar, not being a wiz with Apple Script, this was a feature I never really used. Therefore the list of features which Objective Developments advertised, was for me, condensed into a handful.
Then a new kid arrived, or should I say, a second version of a new kid arrived on the block, one called Alfred.
Where do I start? Well lets just say its not just an application launcher, it does everything which Quicksilver and LaunchBar does and more, and whats more its easy to use and being supported by the community.
There are two flavours of Alfred, the free version which functions are more or less limited to those of Quicksilver, and an optional add-on (which costs £15) called the PowerPack. The real functionality of Alfred comes with the PowerPack and is well worth the price of admission.
There are three main features which I use from the PowerPack and I shall talk about each of these in turn.
Firstly 1Password integration. I have blogged about 1Password many a time and its a great programme for ensuring you have unique secure passwords for each site. But removing your hands from the keyboard to open a web browser, typing in the URL, then clicking on the 1Password browser extension to fill in the fields is very time consuming. Now all you have to do is activate Alfred by using your keyboard shortcut, type in the 1Password item, hit enter, and your default browser is launched, password fields are entered and you are logged in.
Its an amazing idea, honestly it saves so much time!
The second feature I love about Alfred is entitled ‘Workflows’, and is perhaps the best thing about Alfred, and the thing that sets it apart from LaunchBar or Quicksilver. Workflows are ultimately little programmes that are integrated into Alfred that do tasks for you once activated. They are similar to Services which could have been launched in LaunchBar only much easier to create, and if you don’t want to create your own, there is a huge community out there has already developed hundreds of them.
Above are seven of the workflows which I currently have installed in Alfred, from top to bottom.
- AlfredTweet (Link) – allows you to send tweets from Alfred
- Clear OSX’s DNS Cache (Link) – developed by me, runs a simple terminal command to clear the OS’s DNS Cache
- Day (Link) – works out days of the week for you.
- Evernote (Link) – allows you to perform Evernote searches etc etc.
- New OmniFocus Inbox Task (Link) – Create OmniFocus tasks in Alfred.
- Shorten URL with bit.ly (Link) – Takes the URL in the clipboard, shortens it using bit.ly (and even your custom shortened URL if linked with bit.ly Pro) and pastes the shortened version back into the clipboard.
- Slug (Link) – create URL friendly filename slugs with ease.
If you do however want to build your own its simple, you simply add elements to create a path as shown above.
My third and final favourite element of Alfred allows you to keep all your hard work of customising Alfred in sync with your other Macs, and thats with DropBox support. All that is required is a few clicks and your settings and workflows are synced across all of your macs, so if you add or make a change on one, its automatically changed on the others.
Those are just a few of my favourite features, ive not even touched upon the other features of the Alfred PowerPack which include:
- Clipboard & Snippet
- iTunes mini player
- File Nav & Results Actions
- Quick Look
I think that there is two reasons why will outlive LaunchBar and Quicksilver. For a start (at least compared to LaunchBar) its cheaper, and secondly its being supported by developers.
Anyone can create and share a Workflow, and they can do fantastic things which literally save you hours and hours each month. Seriously give it a go.
UPDATE: A new site has been launched that is acting as a repository for Alfred Workflows – Creatively its is called: AlfredWorkflow.com – check it out!