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Alfred 2: OK, I'm In

Up until now, I’ve been giving Alfred a shot here or there. I would download the free version and play around with it and then run into roadblocks with its support of some things I’m currently doing with Launchbar. I have trouble overcoming the friction and eventually give up on it. It was a shame because people who didn’t use Launchbar swore by Alfred. I found Launchbar seemed very well-suited to how I worked, not to mention the fact that I had already built up considerable muscle memory with Launchbar hotkeys. My interest in Alfred always persisted however and I’m glad it did.

Enter Alfred v2. It is a re-designed (from the ground up, I’m told) new version of the app and after hearing a lot of rumblings about the efficacy of the new workflow system, I thought I’d give it a go. And this was to be a real go – one that wasn’t just a dip into the common features and a surface recognition that things weren’t going to work out for us, Alfred and me. No, this was going to go all the way.

So what did I find? I found a deep, useful and profoundly productive tool which has shown more promise with each day I’ve spent with it. At this point, Alfred has not only replaced Launchbar for common use throughout the day, but it has extended beyond it into things that Keyboard Maestro used to do. If you’ve ever used Keyboard Maestro, you’d know how amazing that is. That’s not to say that it is perfect. It’s also not to say that there are limitations as well. But it is a really, really good product (with the PowerPack installed) and I’m happy with the results so far.

I am not going to go too far down the rabbit hole in this post but I will run down some of the things that struck me about the new version of Alfred as well as some of the features that allowed it to overcome some of its previous shortcomings.

One thing that used to kill me was that I had some really fast, custom shortcuts in Launchbar – “OL” would fire up Outlook, “PF” would fire off Pathfinder, etc. Alfred , however, picked the target apps itself and used heuristics to push things up the list of popular choices. Sometimes it picked “OL” for Outlook but if it decided that OmniOutliner made more sense, you couldn’t “brute force” the choice to always choose Outlook like you could in Launchbar. I am not a huge fan of having to hit ⌘-1, etc. for additional choices so having the first choice be exactly what I want, when I want it, is key.

With workflows, that restriction is gone. I just open the workflow designer, create a trigger, map “OL” to Outlook and I’m done. The whole process takes about two minutes and it’s all clicking, dragging and minimal typing.

Some cursory perusal of the Alfred forums yielded some great workflows to quickly create OmniFocus tasks, completely control Rdio, and provide a fast way to list time zones in various parts of the world. All of this functionality comes from typing a few choice keys the Alfred command box. Brilliant.

Combine that with automating some previously keyboard-intensive things I used to do like launching a terminal and typing some common commands (like “top -oCPU” etc.) or clever ways to launch framed windows to remote machines[1] and I’m saving tons of keystrokes.

I am sure my use of Alfred will change and grow over the coming weeks and, once they launch a better way to browse community workflows[2] the tool will evolve in ways people are barely able to imagine right now. At this point, I can safely say that I won’t be ditching Alfred any time soon. The app looks gorgeous, has lots of options and clearly has a keen design vision behind it. I can’t wait to see where this goes.

  1. Using “open vnc://MyMacMini.local” when on my home network or “open vnc://MyMacMini.{MyiCloudID}.members.btmm.icloud.com” when I want to launch a Back to My Mac session ↩

  2. It looks like they are working on it. ↩