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