Alfred-Header

Everyone who uses a Mac should use Alfred.

Alfred is an app launcher, file searcher, and productivity utility. But that description probably doesn’t make you want to stop everything you’re doing and install it.

You may have used an app launcher before and thought “what’s the big deal?” Quicksilver has been a popular choice for a long time, and Apple’s own Spotlight is pretty good too.

And we all have our favorite productivity apps.

But Alfred will make everything you do on your Mac easier and faster. You just need to commit to it. And then you will be wondering what to do with all the extra free time you have. I like to practice my procrastinating.

If you’re still not convinced let me give you a quick overview of what Alfred can do for you.

Ready to Launch

At the heart of Alfred is it’s ability to launch apps and find files quickly. But Spotlight does that as well. Alfred will also search through your contacts, do web searches, do calculations, check the weather, and a bunch of other useful commands.

You can customize exactly what Alfred searches for, and assign hot keys for specific actions such as opening Gmail. It’s all done through the preferences, so lets take a look.

Once installed open the preferences by clicking on the Alfred icon in the menu bar and selecting “Preferences”.

Open-Alfred-preferences

From “General Preferences” select Alfred to launch at login, and assign a hotkey combination to launch Alfred. I have selected “Option-Space”.

Set-the-Alfred-hotkey-under-preferences

When you’ve assigned a hotkey click on “Features” to start customizing your searches.

Customize-Alfred-search-results-under-Features

There’s a huge amount of customizations you can make. Take the time to go through each of the settings to make Alfred work best for you.

Create a Custom Web Search

Here’s an example of a custom web search I have created. Since I’m an Aussie who’s living overseas at the moment I hate missing out on watching football. So I have created a custom web search that launches the AFL TV website using the keyword “AFL”. Now I don’t have to miss any Sydney Swans games.

Custom-web-searches-in-Alfred

To create your own custom search click the “Add Custom Search” button and fill in the fields. It’s very easy. Alfred also comes with a lot pre-built custom searches.

Add-custom-search-in-Alfred-Preferences

After you have reviewed the features and created some custom hotkeys you launch Alfred with the hotkey you defined in the first step above. In my case it’s “Option-Space”.

Alfred-waiting-for-a-command

Then start typing in your command, file search, or app you want to launch.

Launching Lightroom app. (I really should remove the old version.)

Searching for a file. Just type in the file name after “Find”.

Searching-for-a-file-in-Alfred

Searching contacts. You can open the contact details in Alfred and copy details to the clipboard or send an email.

Searching-contacts-with-Alfred

Or you can email a contact directly. In my case it will launch a compose window in Gmail, but it can also launch your default mail application.

Emailing-a-contact-in-Alfred

Put your Mac to sleep.

Put-your-mac-to-sleep-with-Alfred

If this is all you want to use Alfred for then you will already be improving productivity and saving time. But if you want to take productivity to another level it’s time to take a look at Workflows.

Streamline Your Workflow

By activating the optional Power Pack within Alfred you can set up custom workflows. A workflow can be as simple as assigning a hotkey to launch an often used application, or to perform more complex tasks.

Advanced workflows can be a little tricky to set up, but a brilliant feature is the ability to share and install other user’s workflows.

The Alfred Workflow List is a great resource for finding and sharing workflows.

To install a shared workflow download the workflow file to your hard drive. Double click the file and Alfred will prompt to you import it. Click “Import” and you’re done.

I chose an iTunes lyric search workflow which you can download here.

Import-a-workflow-to-Alfred

Creating your own workflow can be tricky, often involving scripting. But there are some included example workflows, and templates to help you get started.

If you want to create a complex workflow there are some good resources to help you. But let’s go through the process of creating a simple web search workflow.

This workflow will search TechNorms and Google for your keyword. Useful if you want some tech related information.

Click the “+” button at the bottom of the “Preferences/Workflow” screen. Choose the option below.

Add-new-web-search-workflow-in-Alfred

Your Workflow screen should look like this.

New-Alfred-workflow

Double click the “Keyword” box and enter the keyword to launch the search. In this case it’s “tech”. Then enter a description and subtext.

add-keyword-to-launch-search-in-Alfred

Now we need to add a trigger. There is already a trigger to search Google, but we also want to search TechNorms. Click the “+” icon in the workflow screen and select “Open URL”.

Add-a-trigger-in-alfred

Type in the search term into the box. To search TechNorms type “https://www.technorms.com/?s={query}” and click “Save”.

enter-search-term-for-custom-trigger

Click and drag a link between the keyword and the new search term.

Create-link-to-search-term

Then invoke Alfred and use our keyword “Tech” followed by a search term.

Performing-a-custom-search-in-Alfred

If you have a little programming and scripting knowledge then you’ll be able to create complex workflows that are beyond the scope of this article. If you do, just make sure you share them with the rest of us!

Changing Appearances

Another cool feature is the ability to customize the appearance of Alfred. This is found under “Preferences/Appearance”.

Customizing-Alfreds-appearance-in-Preferences

You can choose from some pre-installed themes, or you can create your own by editing the current themes.

To edit a theme just click on the preview to change the selected option.

editing-a-theme-in-alfred

Like Workflows, Themes can also be shared.

Final Thoughts

Alfred is a productivity power-house that will change the way you use your Mac. It’s one of those apps that you don’t realise you need until you start using it. And then you can never go back.

It’s list of features and customization options are almost endless with a little imagination. And it’s time saving potential is huge.

You won’t be needing Launchpad again, that’s for sure.

The basic Alfred licence is free. But if you want to add Workflows you need to purchase the Power Pack add-on for £15 ($23US).

Download Alfred V2 today.