Just a little over two years ago, when I moved from Linux to the Mac, I set out to find an app launcher similar to what I was accustomed to. At the time, Quicksilver was pretty much defunct and Launchbar… well that just didn’t click with me. Then I found Alfred and have never looked back.
Dubbing Alfred as a mere application launcher is very misleading though, simply because it’s capable of so much more. It a true productivity powerhouse, the backbone of so many of my workflows… An app without which I would feel crippled on a Mac.
As is the case with any vital tool, when I hear the words “New version” or “Major rewrite”, I cannot help but cringe and feel a little bit anxious with what lies ahead. Will it remain the crux of my workflow, or will the glue that holds the many intricate pieces together fail? Well… Will it?
One thing that can be said for Alfred, is that development never stopped. The team behind it laboured tirelessly, constantly adding new features and improvements. The downside being that many were an afterthought, a fact that became painfully apparent in the app’s cluttered and unwieldy preferences.
With version 2’s rewrite that has changed dramatically. From the first time you open the preferences, now a separate app, you’ll notice a cleaner interface with better layout. Settings and features are logically grouped making them easier to find and tweak.
A Closer Look
As Vero had stated in her initial blog post, version 2 would still feel like home for veteran users. I was happy to see that it does, albeit a new, improved and redecorated home!
With one or two minor exceptions every single setting was where I’d expect it to be. A few settings, that in version 1 merited a separate section, have now been merged with others. As an example, Fallback Searches can now be found under Default Results, while Custom Searches, Web Searches, URLs and History have all been meshed together forming Web Search.
This type of reorganisation can be found throughout the app. But the changes aren’t merely cosmetic. A few features have matured and received some interesting tweaks. For instance, you can now disable unneeded default actions as well as asking for confirmation for specific System Commands.
Another feature to have been tweaked in a considerable manner is the Contacts Viewer. You can now define custom actions per contact field. This allows you to extend functionality and somewhat bend it to your will by passing the entry to a URL Scheme, copying it to clipboard or viewing it as large text.
These custom actions can be accessed from a workflow, but more on workflows a little later.
Version 1 already had the ability of theming, but Alfred 2 brings it to a whole new level. Not only is the theming engine more intuitive and accessible, it is also vastly more powerful. Choose from an array of fonts, change font sizes, increase of decrease the padding between entries. Change the width of Alfred’s window as well as the corner radius. After creating a master piece, use the share button to export your theme, either as a URL or as a file.
Click on the background to change colours, giving you a better feel for how your design will look.
Gone are the ragged and weary extensions of version 1. In their place you’ll find the infinitely more powerful, flexible and intuitive Workflows. What are they, you may ask.
Workflows, a feature found only in the Powerpack, allow you extend Alfred’s functionality in almost infinite ways by running scripts, launching hotkeys running system commands, and more. Workflows are made up of objects such as triggers, inputs, actions and outputs, each easily linked with the aid of a visual canvas.
The ability to feed results back to Alfred, a much requested feature, finally saw the light in version 2 giving way to many creative workflows.
If you’d like to get started then there are a few examples or templates that will show you the basics. Examples are fully functioning workflows that will immediately give a feel for what is possible. Templates on the other hand provide you with the essential building blocks for workflows. All you have to do is then fill in the blanks.
However, if that’s not your thing, you can easily import workflows created by the vibrant and helpful community of users that have rallied to create some amazing workflows. Simply choose the workflow you’d like to import, double click it and confirm the prompt in Alfred. There is much more to be said about workflows and for that very reason we’ll have a whole piece solely dedicated to them shortly.
At the beginning of this piece I asked a vital question: “Will it remain the crux of my workflow, or will the glue that holds the many intricate pieces together fail? I’m happy to report that after having used Alfred 2 for the past couple of months it has strengthened its foothold as one of the pillars of my daily workflow.
With all the great features that it retained from version 1, the inclusion of workflows and the budding community of workflow developers creating amazing things, I can state with a clear conscious that this is a must have app. The price of the PowerPack is easily justified by workflows alone. How much does a weather app cost? A good twitter client, or something akin to Mailhub? These are just a few examples of workflows that already exist!
If you’re still on the fence, then peruse the previous in-depth articles where I cover in much detail what Alfred can do. Though they are for version 1, the features and power remain intact. Install the free version and give it a test run… I’m sure you’ll love it. I feel so confident in fact that I foresee a couple of converts from other popular app launchers!
Rating an app isn’t always an easy task, but this is one case where I have no doubts and give it a solid 10! What are your thoughts?
Don’t forget, we’ll soon have an in-depth look at workflows, showcasing some great ones.