Awaken The Productivity Beast In Alfred – Part 1

To the untrained eye, Alfred may seem like just another simple frontend to spotlight, allowing you to launch apps and search your Mac. However, beneath its seemingly humble facade lies a dormant beast. A powerful and flexible beast, that is, that with a little knowledge can be woken from its slumber to bring your productivity to new heights.

Join me on this epic quest as we set free the beast within Alfred and have it do your bidding.

Be sure to check out second article on Alfred to find even more productivity tips and tricks.


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First Things First

It should go without saying, but the first and most essential tip is: Get The Powerpack! Alfred without the Powerpack is like Arthur without Excalibur, like Merlin without his magic, like… you get the idea. My point is that the key to unleashing Alfred’s true power is, well the Powerpack.

For that very reason, from here on out, most if not all tips will assume you have the Powerpack installed. This will of course cost you roughly $24. One thing to note, though, is that the Powerpack will not work with the Mac App Store version of Alfred, so be sure to download Alfred directly from its site.

Search

Search is at Alfred’s core, and therefore knowing your way around it is fundamental. What may appear to be a trivial affair, has in fact many intricacies that can seem daunting at first, but bear with me while I introduce you to your new best friend.

Keywords

Choose the keywords and scope that suits you best

Choose the keywords and scope that suits you best

Finding files and folders is a cinch once you’ve mastered a few keywords and the subtle differences between them. The keywords find and open are similar in the respect that they both search for files and folders based on their name. The main difference being that find will reveal the file or folder in finder, whereas open will do just that — open the file or folder.

Summoning Alfred and pressing space or is the same as using open.

You can type in as many words as needed in your query to refine your search until you find exactly what you’re looking for. For example:

  • To find all text (.txt) files with Alfred in the filename type:
    open txt alfred
  • To find all pdf files with the word expense and 2012 use:
    open pdf expense 2012

These two quick examples should set you on your way to refined search results. There will be times however when you’re not sure of the filename but know a word in the file. This is where the use of the in keyword comes into play. This will search the content of a file for the specified query. I use multimarkdown metadata in almost all of my text files and a quick way of searching it is using the in keyword.

Easily find files with Type: Review in it's metadata using the in keyword.

Easily find files with Type: Review in its metadata using the in keyword.

Search Scopes And Filters

Alfred uses search scopes to refine and limit your search. In Features>Default Results the Search Scope is rather limited and although you can change this, fewer paths will render more accurate results. File searches are another matter altogether and here it’s best to broaden the scope choosing Everything in File Search>Exclusions & Scope. This is also where you can define what types of files you don’t want to appear in the search results.

Search Filters – This is another place where you’ll find search scopes. To create a search filter, click Extensions and choose Search Filter. Give your filter a Name, optionally fill in your name and website and then click Create. Most fields are self explanatory but I’d like to focus on three in particular:

  • Action – The default action is to open the file, just as would happen had you used the open keyword. You can also choose to reveal in finder simulating find. But here you will also see something new, the ability to pass the selected file to an extension (more on extensions later). This opens a whole new realm of possibilities since you can pass files to scripts or automator workflows or even open them in a particular app.
  • File Types – Here you can limit what types of files Alfred will search for. If you have a constant need to search for a specific file type, rather than use the method described earlier, simply create a search filter and save a few key strokes.
  • Scope – You can further refine the limits of your search by choosing a narrow search scope.
My Personal Notes Search Filter.

My Personal Notes Search Filter.

Web, Custom, URLS And History

Out of the the box Alfred includes over 30 web searches from sites such as Google, duckduckgo, twitter and Amazon to name just a few. However, in the off chance that a search you can’t live without (say, of Mac.AppStorm for example) doesn’t exist, creating a custom search is easy enough.

  1. Navigate to the desired site and perform a search with an easy to identify query;
  2. Copy the resulting URL, sans your query;
  3. Open Alfred Preferences and navigate to Features>Custom Searches;
  4. Click + to add a new Custom Search;
  5. Paste in the URL you previously copied followed by {query}, fill in the remaining fields and you’re done.
Now you can easily launch a search from your favourite site straight from Alfred.

Now you can easily launch a search from your favourite site straight from Alfred.

You can include your custom search as one of the Fallback Searches.

While on the topic of URLs, it’s important to mention that Alfred feels right at home with URL schemes. The use cases for this little trick are limited only by your imagination and of course URL scheme support.

Interact With The Mac App Store

  • To navigate directly to the Updates Page open Alfred and type:
    macappstore://showUpdatesPage
  • To navigate Directly to your Purchases Page use:
    macappstore://showPurchasesPage
  • Show your Hidden Purchases without having to go through account details:
    macappstore://se.itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStoreElements.woa/wa/purchases?cc=pt&filtered=false&l=en&mode=HIDDEN&mt=12

Quick Access To Remote Systems And Shares

You can use Alfred to quickly access a remote server or shared folder by means of URL schemes. A few of the many possible options are: ssh://, vnc://, rdp://, smb:// or sftp://

As you can see from these brief examples, URL schemes can be extremely useful in speeding up your daily workflow. Combine this with the ability to search Alfred’s history and even assign URL schemes to a Global Hotkey and access to a frequently used file, note, or remote server is a keystroke away.

You can use an app such as RCDefaulApp to see which apps have URL schemes and even change which apps are triggered by certain URL schemes.

It’s The Little Things

Often it’s the little things that reveal a developer sweat the details and Alfred is no exception. It’s full of small and simple utilities that make mundane tasks on your Mac so much easier.

Calculator

  • Need to perform a simple calculation? Open Alfred and type it in. The result will be displayed below and if you action the item (hit enter) it will copied to your clipboard.
  • By ending your equation with an = the result will be copied back to the query field thus allowing you to effectively reuse the result.
  • You can perform rather complex calculations (based on the GCMathParser) by preceding your equation with =.
An example of a complex calculation... No making fun of my math-fu!

An example of a complex calculation… No making fun of my math-fu!

Dictionary

For anyone that writes a lot, the dictionary is a vital resource. Whether it’s to view the correct spelling of a word, or lookup its definition or a synonym, Alfred can help!

  • Use the keyword spell followed by a word. Alfred will show you the correct spelling. Action the item and it will be copied to the clipboard (alternatively you can also choose for the word to be pasted immediately);
  • Use the keyword define and Alfred will open OS X’s dictionary with the correct word selected, from where you can see its definition or choose a synonym from the thesaurus.
What Mac.AppStorm is... ;)

What Mac.AppStorm is… ;)

Address Book And Email

It’s no secret that OS X’s Contacts app is far from great. There isn’t much love for the app from users in general, and that has opened the way for others such as Cobook (which is a great app). Fortunately though, you can quickly lookup a contact with Alfred. Type your contacts name action the item and you’ll see his/her contact card. From here you can easily action any of the items.

  • Choose an email and your default mail app will open with the email populated;
  • Choose any other info and it will be copied to the clipboard;
  • Choose an IM item and open the app ready for messaging (using URL schemes once again).
  • Customise the respective actions in the preferences and don’t forget that you can also choose to pass the relevant information to an action (extension).

Another way of sending out a quick email is by typing the email keyword followed by your contacts name. If the contact has more than one email address then you’ll be presented with the contact card to choose the correct one.

You can choose any number of actions to be performed on contact information.

You can choose any number of actions to be performed on contact information.

iTunes Mini Player

There is a barrage of iTunes alternatives out there, but this is not one! You will still need iTunes open in the background for Alfred’s Mini Player to work. What this brings to the table though is a quick and intuitive way to get to your music… FAST! Even if you don’t have iTunes open already, Alfred will open it for you. The default to activate the Mini Player is ⌥⌘↩

  • Open Mini Player and type ⌘5 to quickly choose a random album;
  • Open Mini Player and type ⌘4 to jump to playlist, type the name of the playlist and off you go;
  • Open Mini Player, start typing an artist’s name, album name etc. Hit enter and choose a song or play all.
  • You can use the mouse on the Mini Player to control tracks, assign ratings etc.
All you need to enjoy your Music, a keystroke away.

All you need to enjoy your Music, a keystroke away.

1Password

With so much more of our content and personal information online, it’s crucial that we adhere to strong security “Best Practices”. 1Password has been for a long time the standard when it comes to online security. No surprise then to see Alfred integrate 1Password, turning yet another tedious task into mere child’s play. Now, in one fell swoop you can navigate to your desired site and securely login with 1Password.

  • Type 1p followed by the bookmark name. Once actioned, your browser will open on that page and prompt your to type in your 1Password password if needed.
Quick access to your secure sites.

Quick access to your secure sites.

You can also save your 1Password bookmarks by dragging them to the bookmark bar.

Clipboard

OS X’s clipboard leaves a lot to be desired, driving most users to look for other alternatives. While there are many good options out there, Alfred already has you covered, and in a great way. Alfred’s Clipboard is one of those little gems that once discovered, quickly becomes indispensable in most productive workflows.

Alfred can keep your Clipboard History stored from a day up to 3 Months, choose which works best for you in the preferences. There are 2 ways in which you can access your clipboard history:

  1. Open Alfred and type the keyword clipboard;
  2. Use the viewer hotkey, default is ⌥⌘C.

Once in the viewer, you can search your history by typing in a query. Unlike searching for files however, here you can’t use a fuzzy match. What this means is that you can’t type import alfred to find the entry in the screenshot, but rather type important text.

No Support for Fuzzy Matching in Clip Board History.

No Support for Fuzzy Matching in Clipboard History.

Another insanely useful feature of Alfred’s Clipboard is the ability to Merge copied items. How often do you find yourself going through the tedious cycle of copy, alt+tab, paste, alt+tab, copy… when you need content from various sources in your document? Fortunately now you can simply Merge every bit of information needed and then paste in your document.

Hold ⌘ and double tap C to append the currently selected clipboard item to the previously copied text in the clipboard history.

Snippets

Provided you don’t already have a full fledged text expander such as Text Expander For Mac and your needs are humble, Alfred’s Snippets could be a perfect fit. What makes it less useful though is the fact that you’re not able to bind a snippet to a hotkey or have it triggered automatically. Instead, in order to use a snippet you have to either:

  • Summon Alfred, type snippet followed by the keyword you assigned to your snippet;
  • Activate the Clipboard Viewer using the hotkey, type the keyword you assigned to your snippet or view all snippets.

Before you can use a snippet though, you need to create it:

  1. Access Alfred’s Preferences, navigate to Features>Clipboard;
  2. Choose Snippets;
  3. Click + to create a new snippet;
  4. Give it a name, keyword (will be used to later access your snippet) and then type the snippet text.
The two different views when accessing snippets.

The two different views when accessing snippets.

Conclusion

As you can hopefully already see, Alfred is one of the rare apps that you can get a lot out of just fine using the bare minimum. However, if you dare delve in a little deeper, you will surely find new and interesting ways of working with it and boosting your productivity. Although we’ve reached the end of the journey today, don’t think for one minute that this is all there is to Alfred. Stay tuned for the next instalment to discover even more tips and tricks.

Have a tip or trick I missed in these topics, let us all know in the comment…


  • http://jarhead.me Doug

    Love my man Alfred. I blog via Octopress which means each blog post is its own separate markdown file. So I have a search filter setup so that I can search my markdown files quickly on my Mac.

    Also blogging with Octopress, I have an Alfred extension setup to create a new markdown file with the correct yaml entered for me and a separate Alfred extension to rake generate && rake deploy which generates the blog and uploads to my web server via rsync.

    To send a quick push message to my iPhone and/or iPad with pushover installed, I have a simple Alfred extension allowing me to do so.

    Alfred is one of the first apps I install on a new Mac. Highly recommended.

    • http://palobo.tumblr.com Pedro Lobo

      Great workflow DOug. Use something similar for my posts on Tumblr and once I get my kirby setup right it’ll be Alfred all the way.

    • http://tmbuk.com Jon

      Love this integration Doug really useful to be able to send custom notifications via Pushover to different devices … took a while to find a copy of your extension though as your site seems to be down!

  • Xavier

    Hey I love your Alfred theme!
    Could you share it with all of us?
    Thanks in advance!

  • MikeB

    I look forward to the continuation of your articles on Alfred. It remains one of those apps that I don’t think I use to its full extent but, regardless, also believe it’s the kind of app I have no hesitation in recommending and consider a necessary and worthwhile investment for the licence.

    • http://palobo.tumblr.com Pedro Lobo

      Thanks. Part 2 should be up soon. It really is one of those apps that once you get into it it’s hard to imagine working any other way.

  • esetlzn

    GOOD REVIEW,I just use it to launch application.

    • http://vinodhanv.wordpress.com Vinodhan

      You have to get powerpack (My advise, get megasupport! they are udpating to v2) and u will use it for many other purpose also.

  • Khan

    Alfred is great! But I don’t have a use for the powerpack.

    Launching applications, urls , finding files is insanely fast tho.

    Also instead of an itunes mini player I use Sonora which can (CMD+.) to search a song just as fast as Alfred and is a nicer music player aswell.

    • http://palobo.tumblr.com Pedro Lobo

      Hey Khan,

      I can understand that you may feel that way now, but Alfred really is one of those apps that once you take the plunge you can’t imagine working any other way. Hotkeys and Extensions (coming in part 2) make life so much easier.

      As for sonora, it’s a great app indeed, but with Alfred’s miniplayer there are so many more options that I didn’t go into. Shortcuts to shuffle, play next, previous rate and so much more. All of these can be assigned to a hotkey to speed things up even more.

      I really think you should take a closer look. Stay tuned, maybe part 2 will convince you to give it a try.

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