When I first reviewed Alfred, the app- and file-launching utility, back in early 2011, I praised it for its simplicity: You'd invoke the utility with a shortcut key-combination, type the first few letters of an application or file's name, and Alfred would find what you wanted and open it. It did more than OS X's built-in Spotlight feature--if not quite as much as other launchers such as Butler, Launchbar, or Quicksilver--without a lot of monkeying around.
But almost as soon as I wrote that review, Running With Crayons, the utility's developer, began monkeying around with Alfred, adding powerful new features such as global hotkeys (which let you assign permanent keyboard shortcuts to files, apps, Web searches, and other things) and extensions (which let you quickly run AppleScripts, Automator workflows, complex file searches, and more) to the essentially simple app. With Alfred 2, that trend continues. This recent major update introduces a feature called workflows for performing more-complex series of actions.
Thankfully, this added power doesn't compromise Alfred's appealing simplicity. You can still use Alfred to reliably find and launch files, apps, and Web searches without any complex configuration. But if you're willing to dig deeper, you might be pleasantly surprised by just how powerful this easy-to-use launcher can be.
When you activate Alfred using your chosen shortcut (I use Control+Space), you get a basic text-entry box. You start typing what you want there, and Alfred returns a list of possible hits. Scroll down that list (or use one of the displayed Command-number keyboard shortcuts) and select an item to open it. So far, this sounds just like Spotlight, right? But like other third-party launcher utilities, Alfred learns which apps you launch most frequently and puts the most-used ones at the top of the results list. (I wish it did so more reliably with files.)
Using keywords, you can find more than just apps and files. For example, typing g followed by a search term, for example, initiates a Google search for that string of text. There are similar shortcuts for Bing, Yahoo, Gmail, Twitter, Amazon, and more. Alfred can also search your contacts, clipboard history, and dictionary; it can perform standard and advanced math calculations; and it offers a library of keywords for controlling your Mac (logout and emptytrash, for example). Alfred also has an iTunes controller and text-snippets capabilities, a la TextExpander.
Since my previous review, Alfred 1.x extended its core functionality in some really useful ways. A file buffer, for example, lets you find multiple files in sequence, adding each to the buffer with a quick keyboard shortcut, then perform the same action (copy, move, whatever) on all of the files at once.
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