How To Quickly Launch Apps with Alfred

Alfred is the latest application to add to an ever-expanding set of “quick launch” apps. So is there room for another? Definitely. Alfred has been designed with the casual user in mind and makes finding files and searching the net a whole lot faster and easier.

This review will take a deeper look at Alfred, developed by “The Alfred Team”, and share a few competing launchers for you to consider.

How Alfred Works

Alfred has a very slick user interface which is kept as minimal as possible. The default hot-key to trigger Alfred is ‘Option + Space’ which reveals a large text entry bar over the center of the screen.

A Blank Search

A Blank Search

Something very impressive about Alfred that is even on the first opening, it doesn’t appear to do any indexing and just works straight away.

After you’ve got Alfred onscreen, all you have to do is type away. The text comes out in lovely large letters which makes it much faster to visually scan results than many of the other apps out there, and it limits results to around 6-8 hits.

Despite this, the search is blazingly fast and is incredibly good at finding exactly what you want to find.

Starting a Search

Starting a Search

To select a result, you can use ‘return’ for the top result or in conjunction with the arrow keys, or use ‘Command + corresponding number’.

Searching Locally

When searching in Alfred, if you just start typing it will index through all applications, contacts, bookmarks, and preference panes.

To search for specific files on the computer, you type the word “find” and then your search. Alfred will look through all files on your computer and reveal them to you in the Finder. You can alternatively use the command “open” to locate and open a file instantly.

Searching the Web

If you simply begin typing a search term that doesn’t have any local hits, Alfred will give you the choice to search on either Google, Wikipedia, or Amazon.

Alfred also comes bundled with many other searches, which are all triggered by typing their name at the start of the search. For example, to search something on Google Maps, you simply type “maps” and then what you’re looking for.

Grabbing a Map

Grabbing a Map

As given from the Alfred help page, here is the list of other search terms you can use at the start of searches to narrow down what you are after:

Search Engines: “Google”, “Yahoo”, “Bing”, “Froggle”, “Images”.

On The Web: “Amazon”, “Ebay”, “Wiki”, “IMDB”.

Social Networks: “LinkedIn”, “Facebook”, “YouTube”, “Twitter”.

Google Tools: “Gmail”, “Docs”, “Reader”, “Maps”.

When typing searches such as “find” or “google”, you don’t need to type the entire word. Just type the first few letters until that search is at the top of the list, hit return on your keyboard, and then type what you are searching for.

Still To Come

Alfred is still in Beta and was only released to the pubic very recently, so the list of features is sure to grow immensely as it progresses. For one, the list of available search terms above is certainly likely to increase.

Some features that the Alfred Team have announced will be released over the coming months include iTunes integration, a Calculator, and Contacts integration. They then go on to say “…in fact, we have a huge list which we are keeping under Alfred’s hat for now, so watch this space.”

Something else they have added only recently is the list of locales in the preferences which allow you to set your location in terms of .com/ etc.

Other Quick Launchers

There exist a decent number of other quick launch apps out there, all quite different to the next. Here are the more well known of them:

Google Quick Search Box: A very clean and quick app which has a great number of features including thorough iTunes integration, clipboard management, and the weather. It doesn’t have the same searching ability across the web as Alfred, but it’s definitely work a look into. Free.

Quick Search Box

Quick Search Box

Launchbar:   This app is jam packed with all sorts of features – from the usual searching of local files, right up to managing your clipboard and composing new emails from within the launch bar. €24 (approx. $33 US).

Quicksilver: I always found Quicksilver a bit complicated for my liking, but it is a very popular app with features aplenty and lots of actions for performing all sorts of tasks. Free.

Butler: A fairly daunting app upon first glance, Butler can do a phenomenal amount of stuff from the menu bar and is incredibly customizable. Donationware.


Alfred is a wonderful new app and I would definitely recommend it to those who want a straight forward, simple searching app. It’s not going to replace the more advanced software for power users such as Quicksilver, but would be well worth keeping an eye on as it’s feature base grows.

Alfred is still in Beta but works wonderfully and is completely free for download. Please do let us know your thoughts – do you require the more advanced features found in other quick launch apps?


Add Yours
  • I’m very partial to Quicksilver but since it was abandoned by the original developer, I’d be willing to try Alfred once his feature list grew

  • What about Namely? Works fine on my Mac, and seems to have similar functionality as Alfred.

  • You forgot one – Spotlight (yes spotlight). I have tried a couple of these launchers and I always seem to go back to Spotlight. It is installed on every mac and can do all of the basics.

    • I agree, Spotlight never fails me.

      • Actually, spotlight did fail me, which is why I got alfred. Spotlight refuses to index iMovie and iDVD (which I rarely use – but it’s nice to bring them up quickly instead of Finder > Applications > etc).

        I know you can rebuild the index, but that hasn’t worked either. So, Alfred it is for me.

    • Well, the thing is Alfred isn’t just launcher. I.e. can you search IMDB directly from Spotlight? I bet $100 you can’t. ;)

      Try Alfred and you will see…

  • The “Triggers” feature in Quicksilver makes it nearly impossible for me to find a decent replacement. Do any of these other launchers let you save a workflow and execute it with a global hotkey?

    • Joshua: With all respect, then Alfred it’s not for you. For me QS is too much complicated and need something really simple, hence Alfred comes.

    • Have you tried Automator actions?

  • I’d been using Quicksilver since about the 2nd day I’d had my Mac (which was over 2 years ago). I got Alfred and absolutely love it. Definitely would recommend it to others.

  • I’m really liking this, but apparently you can’t assign CMD-SPACE like you can in Butler, Quicksilver, etc. Don’t know after years and years of using CMD-SPACE if I can switch to Option-Space!

  • You can add CMD-SPACE if you dont have it assigned for anything else…

    I use it with butler…

    If you got CMD-SPACE for spotlight or quicksilver you got to change it and can only then assign it in butler (at least with me i got it to assign after i changed this)

    • Hmm, I do have Butler and did have it set to CMD-SPACE, but I just removed that and still can’t seem to assign it to Alfred.

      • Nevermind, a restart fixed it!

  • I just replaced Quicksilver with Alfred and have been suitably impressed. Although it tends to be a little slower than Quicksilver in terms of processing results, it’s certainly easier to set up and the UI is a nice upgrade.

  • You can’t talk about launchers without mentioning a beautiful and useful application called Berokyo. Go see for yourself:

  • I got used to Google Quick Searchbox which is developed by the same guy who
    did Quicksilver so whatever it’s lacking yet will be added shortly ;)

  • UMM… admins… On all appstorm sites when I scroll down to the comment form there’s some random person’s info already filled in… dunno that they’d appreciate random people knowing their name and email address.
    Anyways, I found google quick search bar a bit of a CPU hog and sometimes took a long time to launch. Lately I’ve been using Namely, whcih can’t be beat for pure speed, but you have to have a dock icon for it which is a bit annoying, as the other apps all run in the “background”

  • As I wrote about earlier in the month,, Alfred is a QuickSilver killer for *most* people. Why? Because Alfred provides all the functionality that 9 out of 10 people would use QS for. Hats off to the Alfred Team.. they’ve done an amazing job!

  • Quicksilver is better!!!

  • I agree with Chris, Quicksilver just has better features, although I use [insert small percentage here] of all the functionality. Honestly, I would use an exact percentage, but I know myself well enough that when am happy with how it works I will not dig into it any deeper than just the surface functionality.

    This is the exact reason that after reading the review and all of the positive feedback I installed Alfred and trashed QS for 2 weeks (after I changed that icon cuz I find it cheesy, and you have to look at it every time you launch it).

    So, it’s decent but does not seem to have ANY adaptive learning capabilities at all (even though i think it does, just not as adaptive as I would prefer). It also slows me down because I thought I would be able to set custom default key combos for certain apps (like ps for photoshop, xl for excel, ff for firefox). I thought I could get over that, but that is exactly what made me just trash it and reinstall the no-longer-supported QS and, even though it def has it’s drawbacks it does not get in the way which is what alfred started to do to me.

    I hope for future releases to include the simple functionality I need, but, until then…no thanks…

  • I’m missing those gags which start with “Alfred….”

  • If alfred had all of the features that quicksilver had but stayed as fast as it currently is Alfred would be unstoppable.
    The Best features for quicksilver are: – Using the Tab button to copy to etc.
    Also, the set default feature is really good as well.

  • set custom default key combos for certain apps (like ps for photoshop, xl for excel, ff for firefox

  • Is it me, or does this not search WITHIN the actual files (i.e. say I want to search ALL word documents for “kevin”) Spotlight does, and Google Search Box does…but not Alfred? I must be doing something wrong. Also, I don’t like how I click on a e-mail that Alfred finds and it brings up the FILE not the e-mail

  • Great things you’ve always shared with us. Just keep writing this kind of posts.The time which was wasted in traveling for tuition now it can be used for studies.Thanks
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