Getting Started with Alfred

By | August 16, 2014

If you’re reading this, then chances are you’re interested in becoming a bit more productive on your Mac. Luckily for you, Alfred is one of the easiest programs you can add to your computing arsenal, and in my opinion it can make one of the biggest differences with regards to productivity. Before we get into the nuts and bolts of Alfred and what it can offer, you’re going to have to download it onto your machine. There are two ways that you can do this: through the Mac app store, or from the Alfred.com website. Technically you could download it from either place and be up and running in very little time. However, due to the Apple sandbox Alfred cannot run totally free unless you download it directly from their website. Moreover, the Alfred PowerPack which we’ll touch on in a bit can only be used on the version downloaded directly from the Alfred.com website. Bottom line; download Alfred from the Alfred.com website.

alfred app logoAlright, so now that you’ve got the app downloaded and installed its time to poke around and learn the basics of Alfred. For users of Spotlight you’ll feel right at home in terms of how it presents itself, but the comparisons between the two largely stop there. Alfred is not on
ly faster (much faster) than Spotlight, but it also has a plethora of features that Spotlight does not, nor will it ever, and we’ll cover those a bit later. Anyway, once you’ve got Alfred up and running the first thing you need to do is pick a hot key that you’ll use to bring up Alfred. The most natural seems to be the CMD+Space combination, and thats what I use. One thing to note is that Spotlight uses that combination by default so you’re going to have to turn that off. To make that happen head over to your System Preferences -> Spotlight -> Uncheck the box next to “Spotlight menu keyboard shortcut:”. Doing that will allow Alfred to take over that hotkey. Something you’ll notice after doing that however is that the Spotlight icon is still present in your menu bar. If you’re like me and prefer to keep that as tidy as possible then you’ll want to remove it. In order to make that happen you’ll need to open up your Terminal from /Applications/Utilities and paste in the following: sudo chmod 600 /System/Library/CoreServices/Search.bundle/Contents/MacOS/Search press return, then paste the following and hit return as well killall SystemUIServer. If you decide at some later date that you’d like to get the icon back you can simply run the following two commands: sudo chmod 600 /System/Library/CoreServices/Search.bundle/Contents/MacOS/Search return, and then killall SystemUIServer return.

If everything worked out for us the way that it was supposed to after that last paragraph, you should now: 1. Have Alfred installed and running 2. Be able to call it by pressing CMD+Space 3. Not have to see or deal with Spotlight anymore. All good? Alright, lets move on to how we can use Alfred to help us be more productive.

Opening Applications
The main usage point for Alfred is as an application launcher. What does that mean? It means that instead of dragging your mouse to an applications icon, you can now press CMD+Space and type in the name of the app, press enter, and have it launched for you right away. Even for those of you who’re not able to type at a blistering rate, you will be faster using this method. Go ahead and give it a try, how does it feel? Another thing that you can do is use Alfred to switch between applications on your machine. I personally stick to using one desktop and then rely on a combination of Alfred and Alt+Tab to switch between everything. As you can imagine, I’m running 10+ programs simultaneously more often than not so Alt+Tab tends to get pretty cumbersome pretty quickly. For that reason, if I want to access Spotify (which is already open) and Safari is my top most window, I can Alfred into Spotify without having to cycle through all of the other apps that may be open at that time.

Custom Web Searches
I am not sure the last time I went to Google.com to type in a search, or even typed in a search in Safari. When I want to search Google for something, all I need to do is pull up Alfred and type in whatever it is I want to search for. So long as the thing that I’m searching for isn’t also the name of an application on my machine, this is a great way to efficiently search the web. Alfred lets you do more though, they’re called custom web searches and they’re pretty awesome. Basically you can take any website that has a search functionality, and integrate it with Alfred. When you download Alfred it comes with a number of these searches built in, and honestly I haven’t had to add very many. The ones I use most often? Amazon {query}, gmail {query}, youtube {query}. What am I doing there? Well, pull up alfred and type in amazon (space) and then the name of something you’d like to search for in Amazon, press enter, and see what happens. Wasn’t that cool? What kinds of websites do you frequent that you’d like to mimic that behavior with? There is a lot more that we can do with web searches, but for now I think that this is enough to get your feet wet.

Calculator/System Commands/And more
The last of the major (basic) features that I want to touch on are the calculator/system commands/ and a few other minor switches. The calculator is something I use at least once per day, I’m not sure it’ll work for those of you doing calculus but for quick calculations theres no way to get to a calculator faster. Moreover, you can actually copy the result of your equation by pressing enter. This is incredibly helpful for relaying the result of your problem to whomever it is you need to relay it to. For system commands, you can say things like: lock, empty trash, shutdown, sleep, etc. Theres no reason to reach for your mouse when you want to accomplish these sorts of things, and with Alfred you don’t have to. Lastly you can run terminal/shell commands if you’re a 1337 h4cker and thats your thing. You can also find contacts, and use the built in dictionary to check spelling or grab definitions.

We’ve come a long way in 1,100 words. At the beginning you were a mouse wielding human, and now you’re a keyboard mashing super human. Nice! There is plenty more that you can do with Alfred once you’ve got the power pack, things like workflows can save you exponential amounts of time. You can also directly integrate with iTunes, 1Password, Recent Documents, and even sync your settings via Dropbox. Would you like to see a post from me detailing the use of the power pack? Let me know in the comments below, or email me and ill be sure to make it happen.

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