By Stephen Hackett
October 31, 2016 2:15 PM PT
The Hackett File: In praise of Alfred
As a long-time Mac user, I’ve always had several small utilities that I’ve depended on for so long they feel like they are part of macOS itself.
Over the past few years, several of these have been absorbed by one program that feels so incredibly important to how I work that a Mac without it seems … broken.
That app is Alfred.
At first glance, Alfred just looks like a replacement for Spotlight, macOS’ built-in search tool that’s been around since Mac OS X Tiger launched in April 2005.
On the surface of it, Alfred is a replacement for Spotlight. It can search local files and folder with ease. From the list of returned items, you can open a file, or perform any number of tasks on it:
Additionally, Alfred learns commonly-used results. If you always open Photoshop (and not Photos) after typing Pho Alfred will adjust and start putting Photoshop above Photos in its results.
Alfred is free to download. The £17 Powerpack brings many of my favorite features to life, including:
- Clipboard History: See and reuse past clipboard items, including text and images. It’s amazing how often I override my clipboard without thinking just to have Alfred bail me out.
- Web search: Alfred can be used to search websites like Google, Amazon, Wikipedia, IMDB and more. Open Alfred, type the shortcut to search your favorite site, then type your query. For example, to read about everyone’s favorite Incomparable draft pick, I’d type w skeletor and be on my way to Wikipedia.
- iTunes control: iTunes is bulky and, at times, slow to use. Alfred can be used to search and play music without ever leaving the keyboard or app you’re already in.
The most powerful Alfred feature is called Workflows. Workflows get assigned a keyword to set off certain actions. They can execute shell scripts, search the web, control Spotify and just about anything else you can think of. I have workflows that search specific sites, return my local weather and create OmniFocus tasks.
There’s even a whole directory of published workflows on the Alfred website.
As powerful as this app can be, the real genius is its simplicity. Alfred is completely keyboard-driven, so it’s fast. I can search for a file, look up contact information, retrieve a lost clipboard item or set off a shell script without ever touching my mouse, or leaving the program I was already in. It surfaces things on my Mac quickly and efficiently, and I can’t imagine computing without it a keystroke away.